try, try again
The theme of the sermon this past Sunday, “Try Again,” was taken from a book I am writing, a Christian pastoral response to global ecological change. In the book, the principle of try again relates to the manner in which God has set up our ecology. We are always given opportunities to stop polluting, to stop adding garbage to the floating island of plastic in the South Pacific, to continue to conserve water, to seek alternative ways of textile manufacturing and to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere through large scale manufacturing and daily commutes. Each time we pollute, the earth responds, “Try again.” Each time I purchase a coffee with a non-recyclable cup, instead of using my reusable cup, the environment says, “Try again.” We get another opportunity, another season, to act with stewardship of the earth in order to fulfill God’s first command, “Let us make humankind in our image so they can care for creation.” (Gen 1:26)
I can expand the try again principle to summarize the Gospel message. Jesus told many people to try again – the disciples in the feeding of the 5,000 (“Send them away? No, try again. You feed them.”); the parable of the gardener whose tree didn’t produce fruit; Judas when he rebuked Mary for anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume; the men who dragged a woman caught in adultery to the feet of Jesus; Peter when he tried to walk on water, and when he rebuked Jesus, and when he wouldn’t let Jesus wash his feet, and when he drew his sword and cut of the ear of a servant, and when he denied that he knew Jesus. Each time, Jesus said, “Try again.”
In the Old Testament, there are numerous stories in which God repeats the same phrase. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was sent away because he killed Abel. God, with tears in his eyes, said to the grieving first couple, try again. Moses tried to get the Israelites to revolt before God was ready; he killed an Egyptian guard expecting the Israelites to begin an uprising. They didn’t. He fled to a far-off country to tend sheep owned by his father-in-law. Decades later, he saw a burning bush. God spoke to him out of the bush, “Try again.” The great prophet Elijah ran away. He hid in a cave. God sent an earthquake, a windstorm, and a wildfire. Then, in the gentle breeze, Elijah heard God say, “Try again.”
One joy of preaching is that I get to talk about a theological principle and then get feedback on it. The reaction to this message surprised me. Many folks said that God is telling them to respond to others with the phrase, try again. For instance, our lighting contractor is not getting the vision of what we want done in the sanctuary. Instead of dumping this contractor, I was reminded, “Shouldn’t we ask them to try again.” My older son told my younger son to try again (when he was frustrated about something). Here I was trying spread the good news of the Gospel that because God is full of grace and patience we get second chances when we mess up. Yet, just like our ecology does with us each time pollute, and as Jesus invites us each time we miss the mark, I was shown that following Christ means that we ought not to cut off others; rather, we should simply invite them to try again.
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