A Second Chance

A sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity from Rev'd Loveday Alexander
14th June 2020
Romans 5.1-8, Matthew 9.35-10.8
“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
My teenage grandson is in lockdown heaven. No school, no exercise — he can spend all day in his bedroom on the computer. What’s not to like?
He’s a big fan of fantasy fiction and Manga comics. He likes to try writing his own stories, too, and he was telling me about a comic strip he’d written about this space traveller who visits all these parallel universes. Then something goes wrong (I can’t remember what — it was all very complicated) and he makes a huge mistake, and one of his team gets killed. What I do remember was the final frame, where a mysterious voice says to the hero, “You really messed up, and somebody had to die for you. Now the universe is giving you a second chance.”
Somebody dying for me — to keep me safe? That’s a hard thing to get my head around. And yet — it’s been part of our everyday experience, over the last 12 weeks, in ways we could never have imagined.
I think one of the difficult aspects of the lockdown at the moment is that increasingly we seem to be living in a split-screen world — caught between the two parallel universes of the “shielding” and the “shielded”.
For those of us who are being “shielded”, the focus is on keeping sane and cheerful, keeping fit, keeping out of trouble — doing the gardening, sharing silly videos on What’sApp, keeping in touch with friends and family — and in the process, rediscovering what makes like worthwhile, learning to value the simple things in life — like a hug. And planning for a gradual re-opening as if the lockdown was our only problem — forgetting that it’s been part of the solution to a much bigger problem.
AS time goes by, it’s easy to forget the other side of the picture: the people who are still getting sick, and the people who are still caring for them — NHS frontline staff, doctors, nurses, carers, key workers — people who have given up their own comfort and safety, sometimes even their own lives, to care for others. The people who are prepared to give their lives for others.
So how can we hold these two kinds of knowledge together? How can we celebrate life and value it, while honouring and remembering the cost of caring? Somehow it was easier when our paths intersected, like at the Thursday clap. That reminded us that we are both part of the same story.
So yes, we might say to St Paul, our experience over the past few weeks has given us a framework for understanding what you’re talking about. Yes, someone might even be prepared to die for a good person — and not just for good people, but for all kinds of people. Because of the intrinsic value of every human life. Because caring is built into our DNA — it’s how God made us.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus “saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So he sent his disciples out to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News. The good news that God’s kingdom is drawing near. The good news that God loves you. 
And that gospel celebrates all that we value about life. “I have come so that you can have life,” Jesus says, “life in all its fullness.”
It’s a message of healing and wholeness.
A message of compassion and caring.
A message of hospitality and welcome.
A message of creation and creativity.
A message that tells of the infinite value of every human life in the sight of God.
A message of hope, even in the midst of suffering: “and hope does not disappoint us,” St Paul reminds us, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts though the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
But the Gospel also reminds us of the cost of caring, the cost of God’s love — they’re part of the same story. It reminds us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, so that he could bring us to God.”
That’s what this service of Holy Communion is all about. It’s about Jesus saying, “This is my broken body — this is my life. I’m placing it in your hands. It’s for you.” Not because you’re cleverer or nicer or better-looking than anyone else — not because you’re a good person. You don’t have to earn God’s love — he loves you because you’re you.
Robin reminded us just now that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him, puts their trust in him, should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3.16). Somebody had to die for you — but the universe is giving you a second chance. 
So what are we going to do with this new life, this second chance that we’ve been given? We’re beginning to ask that question about our post-lockdown life, as things start (slowly and gradually) to open up. Will we remember the lessons we’ve learned, the simple things in life we’ve learned to value? Will we remember what the world looked like, without the haze of traffic fumes? Will we remember the cost borne by those who’ve been doing the caring (and will go on doing it), laying their lives on the line? Will our new life bring a change of direction, or will we just go back to how we were before?
One of the things we’ve learnt is that life is a gift, infinitely valuable, infinitely precious. It’s right to celebrate life and enjoy it — it’s a gift to be received with thanks and treated with care — all the more precious because we know what it costs. 
Let’s make it a life to be lived with a new sense of purpose, a new sense of direction: a life lived for others: a life lived for God. “He died for all,” St Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5.15, “so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and rose again for them.” Amen to that!

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