University Congregational Church
May 19, 2019
“God of the 2nd Chance: Paul”
Acts 26: 12-18
Let’s face it – we all have a little voice inside our heads that occasionally tells us that we have blown it. It whispers in our ears words like:
“You aren’t up to it…”
“It won’t work out…”
“You’re not good enough…”
“You blew it.”
This voice tears us down and robs us of our potential and our hope. It is not the voice of Easter and it is not the voice of God. It certainly is not the voice of 2nd chances that are so evident in the Bible.
Paul and I have been telling you about numerous stories from the Bible about people who have received 2nd chances – from Adam and Eve to Noah, Abraham, and today, Paul in the New Testament. The sermon series could go on for months, but you get the idea…
• Peter flat out denied Jesus; but a few weeks later preached a sermon where thousands of people became believers.
• Thomas –who notably became “doubting Thomas” questioned the resurrection of Jesus – spent the rest of his life telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
• David committed adultery and murder; but became known as a man after God’s own heart and a great king.
• Rahab was a prostitute; but found the grace of God and became a great grandmother to Jesus.
The stories of these people and their choices – especially Abraham who was about to murder his own child – are difficult to hear. To think of these people as examples of faith is ludicrous. The point of the stories, though, is not to make these people into saints. It is to demonstrate that God is a God who offers humanity grace.
Knowing this doesn’t give us an excuse to make poor choices of course. It actually frees us from the voice in our heads that tells us we are not good enough! No matter who we are and no matter what we’ve done, the future is open for us to begin again.
If ever there was a guy who needed a do-over, it was Saul. Saul was an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a Pharisee, but he hated Jews who became believers in Jesus. As a Pharisee, he had a zeal that motivated him not only to arrest and imprison male Christians, who were understandably the leaders of the early church, but he locked up the female believers as well. He ravaged the early churches by entering the homes of believers while they were gathered and arresting them all on the spot. It is quite possible that Saul was present for the trial of Stephen – a trial that resulted in Stephen becoming the first Christian martyr. The historian Luke tells us that Stephen’s executioners laid their garments at the feet of Saul, who was in full approval of the mob’s murderous actions.
Saul, who became Paul, told about his conversion in this text today:
With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Acts 26: 12-18
According to Paul’s testimony, he:
1. Locked up many of the “saints”
2. Cast his vote against them
3. Tried to force them to blaspheme
4. Even pursued them to foreign cities
To cast a condemning vote in this instance means a vote for the death penalty against those who believed in Jesus.
When the Lord asks him “Why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads,” it means that Saul is resisting God’s goading. He has hardened his resolve against God. If there ever was someone who needed a 2nd chance, it was Saul. And it took this dramatic event to change his life.
Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about. Traveling alone in a truck with camper in tow, she launched out. One afternoon rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento in rush-hour traffic, a water pump blew on her truck. She was tired, exasperated, scared, and alone. In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping.
Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, “Please God, send me an angel … preferably one with mechanical experience.” Within four minutes, a huge Harley drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard, and tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck. Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.
The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: “Hell’s Angels—California.” As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, “Thanks so much,” and carry on a brief conversation.
Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you’re talking to.” With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared.
Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes into which we’ve relegated them. Too often, we judge others and don’t offer them a first chance, more or less a second or third chance. Yet, when it comes to our own lives, we tend to tempt fate.
• Most all of us know that it is critical to back up our computer files regularly. We also know the price of not doing it. When the inevitable happens and we have a computer crash… do we bargain with the universe that we will remember to back up regularly if only our data can be retrieved? And do we?
• We know that it is a good thing to floss our teeth every day. And every visit to the dentist, we probably make a resolution to do better at this and make it a part of our daily routine. 6 months later, we renew our promise. Again and again. When we have a cavity or a crown, or a big dentist bill, we suddenly get more interested in bargaining for another chance.
The illustrations are numerous. Our list of “if onlys” can go on. When we are given a precious second chance, we need to be certain we don’t neglect it. And then we want to be clear about extending the same grace to others.
God is not only the God of second chances; God is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance fairly quickly. So the next time a little voice inside your head whispers that you have blown it or that you can’t do something, remember that it is not true at all. It isn’t a voice of Easter and it certainly is not the voice of God! Because the God of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Paul, and all of us is a God of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th chance and offers unconditional love and grace!
Larson, Craig Brian. 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 275–276.
Maas, David F. What Would You Do With a Second Chance? www.cgg.org May, 2006.
Noble, Perry. Don’t Give Up www.perrynoble.com Nov. 15, 2017.
“The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary” volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015).