A young girl brought her new boyfriend home to meet her parents. The parents could not find many good qualities in the young man. When they had the chance to talk to her, later by herself, the girl’s mother said: “Dear, he doesn’t seem like a very nice person.” “Mom, if he wasn’t a nice person, why would he be doing 500 hours of community service?”…

Community service is one of the ways that our society tries to give people a second chance. Bill McClellan, writer for the Post Dispatch, often has stories where he mentions his version of the church, called “the church of second chances”. The stories are usually of not so likable rogues, characters, miscreants who have run afoul of the law or families or the community or all of the above. Sometimes Bill is advocating that they be given a opportunity at the church of second chances. Other times, he is describing a situation where a person did get such a second chance and if/how it turned out. And sometimes, he writes that it is too early in the story to know even if one is possible. Yet, for most of us, the church of second chances always seems like a good thing.

What we know about those human second chances is that they are a bit inconsistent. Sometimes we are given them, other times, it is “one and done.” Those on the “offender” side are always hoping for them. Those who “have been offended” are not always that generous. Sometimes second chances fail miserably and more people suffer. Other times, those 500 hours of community service really do accomplish wonders. If you’ve ever been the recipient of one, or two or a lot (we call that marriage), you know the gratitude that wells up. If you’ve ever been denied a second chance, you know what it feels like to be trapped in the consequence of your choices. If you’ve ever offered them to others, you know that it is always a risk – you hope it won’t come back and bite you. And if you are blest, you have learned the art of offering the second chance from the cross of Jesus, without strings, freely, from the overflowing hope and love in your heart, because you know you have been given that ultimate second choice in his suffering for you. How easily do you give second chances?

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us a few stories about the church of second chances. Sometimes there aren’t any. Like those who were serving in the temple and ran afoul of a petty tyrant by the name of Pilate; or those killed in the equivalent of a construction accident. They left that morning for work and simply didn’t come home that night. Sometimes life is like that. We read about traffic deaths, victims of random gun violence, and a man whose bedroom was swallowed by a sinkhole in Florida this morning. Sometimes, there is NOT a second chance. It is important to Jesus that we know that. Make sure you use that first chance well, each day.

Others are a bit luckier – like the tree. They have a patient gardener or a judge who gives them [500 hours of] community service or a grandmother willing to take them under her wings. They know people who care enough about them to risk the tough love needed to bring about a change of heart. They have experienced the church of second chances.

Jesus is pretty clear: God’s desire is not that we should perish, but that we find the fullness of life he wants for us by bearing fruit. That is why it is not the landowner, but the gardener who is the God image in his parable. Jesus wants us to know that like the gardener, he’ll intercede for us, he’ll provide what we need for growth. But he will not be endlessly patient. Eventually we have to put up or shut up.

So, this week, offer someone that gift, the chance to be a card carrying member of the church of second chances. Send them a note, drop them a line, give them a call, invite them over – tweet them (though it might be hard to say what you need to in 143 characters) – it doesn’t matter how. Let them know they are forgiven – no strings, no guilt, no groveling – just forgiveness.

You see, the good news about second chances, is that God does believe in them. In fact, he has granted everyone in this church a second chance. It is called TODAY.