Today's message from worship, based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 and Mark 1:14

Many of you know that this time of year the football playoffs are going on.
Last weekend there was one of the most exciting endings to any game ever.
The Minnesota Vikings were losing to the New Orleans Saints with ten seconds to play. 
On the last play of the game they threw a desperation pass that their player caught and then, he ran over 60 yds into the end zone to win the game for them.

But what helped make the play possible was a mess up by a player on the other team.
The guy who was supposed to make the tackle on that player, missed him completely.
He was a rookie who, after the game, sat and cried at his locker and admitted his error.
As he apologized to his teammates he promised it would never happen again.
But its unlikely that many fans (and even some teammates) will easily forgive him.

Mistakes in sporting events, like many things in life, are often not easily forgiven.
Those who mess up are sometimes tarnished forever.
In baseball there was Ralph Branca’s home run pitch to Bobby Thompson in 1951.
Bill Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series helped the Mets beat the Red Sox.
The kid in the stands who interfered on a play that helped keep the Cubs out of the World Series a few years back.
Each of these persons received the wrath of unhappy fans who could not forgive them.

Once we screw up,….in major or minor ways,…. its done and we can’t undo that.
Sports fans as well as others in life, are slow to forgive let alone give second chances.
Even if one admits the wrong or the screw up, its often hard for us to give a pass.

There have been many famous apologies that merely minimized feelings of hostility.
Neville Chamberlain admitted he was wrong for appeasing Hitler in 1940.
Robert McNamara eventually apologized for lying to the nation about the Vietnam War.
Richard Nixon expressed regret for Watergate to David Frost in a famous interview. 
Bill Clinton admitted that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was wrong.
Mel Gibson apologized for anti-Semitic remarks he made to a police officer.
David Letterman apologized to Sara Palin’s daughter for crude jokes made about her.
The CEOs of GM and Toyota apologized for recalls that, in some cases, caused deaths.

But we can’t say for sure that the families whose loved ones died ever forgave GM,…
that the parents of boys killed in Vietnam ever forgave McNamara,….
or if Czechoslovakia and the world ever forgave Neville Chamberlain.
And,…quite frankly,…I wouldn’t blame any of these people if they didn’t forgive.

In religious terminology, and Christianity, the word for this apology stuff is “repent”.
It means to admit and be sorry for an act and try to change so it doesn’t happen again.
And, the one we apologize to (that is express repentance to)….is God. 
Whether we do this or not depends on how much we value our relationship with God.

We have two stories today about that refer to the subject of repentance
The first is with the prophet Jonah (the guy who earlier was swallowed by a big fish).
God sends this prophet to the city of Nineveh to call upon them to repent.
We’re not sure what they did that was so bad, but God felt Nineveh needed to repent.

Yet, unlike some places in biblical history, Nineveh is said to have totally repented.
And then,….unlike with how people often react or life is generally,…. God relents.
He changes his mind from the calamity that he was going to inflict upon that city.
Or, in other words, God forgives them and gives them a second chance.

The other story is not so dramatic but has maybe even more importance to us.
Its from the Gospel of Mark which tells us that “after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying;  
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.’

Jesus begins his ministry with this most important aspect of our relationship with God.
The idea that we’ve screwed up and need to admit our mess ups to be right with God.
Yes, Jesus loves you and me, just like the Sunday school song says.
But part of being loved and loving others is to apologize when we’ve hurt them.
In any relationship when one wrongs another and there is no ‘sorry’, the relationship will always be off kilter because part of love involves apologies and forgiveness.

Likewise, when we’ve hurt God, we need to admit wrongs and engage in repentance. 
That’s why we begin ever worship on Sundays with confession of sins.
Most of us probably don’t, in the brief time, recall or list them all, but we are reminded.
Reminded that on many days and in many ways we fall short of what God wants of us.
In the things we’ve done to hurt him or others, or good things we didn’t bother to do.

But, unlike as human relationships often are, when we’re sorry, God keeps on forgiving.
So, we not only get second chances,…but third, and fourth, and on and on it goes.
Since we keep messing up, we need to keep being sorry and forgiven for things.
But, we can be assured that God will keep forgiving us and giving us another shot.

That rookie football player will have other chances and Nineveh had its second chance. 
But in Jesus we get more than just a second chance. 
The bible tells us that, not only does Jesus love us, but he’ll also never give up on us.
He continues to love us but continues to also ask us to repent of wrong things we do.
It’s something we do, not just on Sundays, but everyday, that will keep us close to him
To remind us that, in Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near” to us to forgive us