At the heart of Christianity is the hope-filled promise that everyone can at any point have a “do-over.” As we close out the year 2020 and anticipate 2021, it is good to know that we do not have to carry everything forward. Each one of us, no matter how stressed, sick, soiled, stained, spotted, or sinful, can begin again.
One of the central messages of the Scriptures, in both Old and New testaments, is how God has enabled folks to reboot, recalculate, restart, and recover from life’s hurts and hits. It does not matter if the ditch you are in is caused by your carelessness or the irresponsible driving of others. The good news is that you do not have to stay in the ditch. God is tuned-in and hears your distress signal and lovingly dispatches helpful agents that can and will get you back on the road of life. You can begin again!
There is no place where God’s grace cannot reach you. There is no action -- past, present or future -- that can exclude you from God’s mercy. There is no depth, height, width, or length where you are inaccessible to the all-seeing eyes and loving grasp of the Good Shepherd. You can begin again!
The Bible story that I love the most is that of the lost “prodigal” son (Luke 15). This young boy gets victimized by a series of bad choices and ends up broke, hungry and in a pig’s pen. The Bible says that, “when he came to his senses” he realized that the only place where he was assured of help and full acceptance was in returning home.
The young man realized the severity of the ties that he had severed and thought that he could never return as a child, but he knew he could count on being taken in as a servant because he had witnessed the generosity and goodness, displayed to others when he was a member of the household.
All the way home this young man practiced his speech, “I’ve sinned against heaven and against you and I am not worthy to be your child.” His hope was that he would be accepted as a servant. He had resigned himself to the fact that servants, at his house, were in a far better place than his current pig pen.
I love how the story takes a dramatic and decisive turn when the son is recognized at a distance. This grieving parent starts running toward their lost wayward child. Upon arrival, the parent is so filled with relief that there is no time for speeches, lectures or “I told you so’s.” Because God looks at our heart, each one of us can begin again with complete and total amnesty, without having to rehearse our entire speech.
To be sure, repentance happens prior to restoration but God does not have a set number of “I’m sorry” that has to be achieved before forgiveness is granted. This wayward, lost son was restored to his previously self-abandoned position as a son. God is in the business of restoring lost wayward children of all ages.
The story of the son is filled with “loss,” but the word prodigal does not mean loss, it means “extravagant.” It has the connotation of being free and reckless. One of our popular worship songs, by Cory Asbury, describes God’s extravagant love, demonstrated towards one lost sheep:
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah.”
You can begin again! There is no better time for you to request a “mulligan” or a “do-over” than at the start of a New Year. God never counts requested second chances on our scorecards. Beginning again is immersed in God’s love and grace lavished upon us by Jesus Christ. John Wesley encouraged early Methodists to begin each year in repentance and in a renewal of their baptismal covenant. I ask you to join me as I pledge and pray, “Wesley’s Covenant Prayer” to begin again:
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
Bishop Frank J. Beard