- Parish House
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Patricia Matthews
When I was young, my mom would take me to the grocery store with her, give me two quarters, and let me hang out at the Pac Man game. I got pretty good – because those two quarters had to stretch for the whole time she was shopping. Once my Pac Men were dead, that was it.
That is the nature of arcade video games. They follow one main rule – one quarter for three lives. When those three lives are over, the game is done.
Recently, however, I have found an exception to that rule.
There is a “Dig Dug” console at a local restaurant. Dig Dug, if you aren’t familiar with it, is another 1980s arcade game, a sort of below-ground Pac Man. Now, the first time I saw it, I put in my quarter, played my three lives, and got ready to leave. It was then that I discovered the miracle – the game kept going.
I got life after life after life – with no additional quarters. That’s right – at this restaurant, you can play Dig Dug as long as you want. This arcade game console doesn’t follow the normal rules; instead, it is full of second chances, and third, fourth, and fifth chances. Chances that never run out.
And here is where I compare the kingdom of God to this 1980’s arcade game. Both have their infinite second chances, at least that’s what today’s readings seem to tell us. In fact, I like to think of this Second Sunday in Easter as Second Chance Sunday – because the revelations we hear today, about who Jesus is, point toward a God who does not play by the standard arcade game rules.
First, take Peter in our reading from Acts. The scene opens with Peter being the spokesperson for the disciples – proclaiming the truth about Jesus to virtually the whole city. If we think about it, Peter may strike us as an unusual choice for leader, considering that he is that Peter, the one who vehemently denied knowing Jesus as Jesus was being led to his death.
So, if one were playing by the usual rules of one quarter for one play – well, with that denial – Peter just lost the game. By those rules, the ones that so many of us follow, Peter should be hiding in the shadows, feeling guilt and shame and knowing that he can’t show his face to this crowd again after what he did. He certainly can’t be their spokesperson.
But this passage reveals something about God: that God doesn’t play by the same rules we humans have made up. Evidently, since the crucifixion, God has been working in Peter’s heart so much that, instead of Peter defining himself by his betrayal, Peter accepts the second, third, fourth chance – the rules by which God’s game is played. And there, in that grace, he stands as a strong and mighty voice, proclaiming for the whole city – to all who witnessed Jesus’ death, that even now, there is a second chance, found within the resurrecting power in God’s love.
And then there is Doubting Thomas – just look at the name by which we still know him best. According to human rules, his weakness has defined him throughout time.
But Jesus, who plays with different rules, doesn’t call him Doubting Thomas. He doesn’t belittle him or define him by his weakness. Doesn’t say, “Sorry, Thomas. Since you doubted, well, you just spent all your quarters and lost the game.”
Instead, Jesus treats Thomas with compassion and gives him a second chance, a free game, and meets Thomas right where he is. Jesus offers himself to Thomas – to see, to feel, to experience.
These two stories show us something about the rules that God follows. The kingdom of God does not run on a “one quarter buys you three lives” system. Instead, it runs on a system of unending chances.
And it isn’t just these two stories – the Bible is riddled with second- and third-chance stories. God often uses people who make mistakes to continue God’s work in the world: People who had ethical failures – Peter in his denial of Jesus, Noah in the mistakes he makes in his drunkenness, and Abraham in his doubt that he would ever have a child. God even uses people who were involved in killing: such as Moses when he killed the Egyptian, King David when he sent Uriah to the front lines to die, and the apostle Paul, before his conversion, when he persecuted Christians.
God clearly uses a different set of rules. But we humans often have a hard time accepting God’s rules. We have a hard time letting go of the old rules of defining ourselves by our faults.
In a recent novel called Lincoln in the Bardo, author George Saunders writes about what this clinging to our old selves looks like. The story takes place in a graveyard and centers around the spirits of people who can’t let go of their old identities. In this process of clinging to who they used to be, they become ghosts, lingering around. They become caricatures of themselves.
For example, if one had been haughty in life and looked down on others, then in this spiritual state, she might become 10 feet tall. If one had been overly in love with the senses in life, then here, he might develop 5 eyes and 6 noses and 7 ears and 10 hands. That’s what clinging to old faults and failures does – it distorts our souls.
Saunders even portrays some people as becoming literally trapped in vines and concrete – when they cannot let go and move on. When we define ourselves by our failings, we can become encapsulated in them.
But sometimes in this place, a soul glimpses the truth that he or she can let go, can accept a new state that is being offered. Then you know what happens to that soul? It suddenly transforms and is free to go on to new life. That soul gets to play a new game.
This is the new life that Jesus is offering his disciples when he appears to them in the upper room. He is saying: are you ready for a second chance? Do you want to let go of your fear that causes you to lock these doors? Do you want to let go of the guilt you are carrying around from denying me? Would you like to let go of all your doubt? Do you want to let go of all the things that distort your soul? Because I offer you a new game, full of unlimited chances. I offer you peace that even locked doors can’t keep out.
That is God’s response to the world’s faults and failures: to offer the peace of second chances on this Second Chance Sunday.
In a few minutes, we will baptize Lewis. He probably hasn’t done much for which he needs a second chance – but he will. And with this baptism, he will join in a long line of people who have gone before him and people who will come after him – who know about God’s grace of unlimited chances.
This lucky boy gets to grow up, not defining himself by his missteps or mistakes – but instead, defining himself, from the beginning, as Christ’s Own Forever. That’s the family to which we all belong, and we invite him into this household of God.