Like a new school year, Jesus offers fresh starts



Let me start out with some really great news. There are only 278 more days until the end of school.

I actually share that news more for the sake of the teachers than the students. I’ve come to discover that adults are worse than kids when it comes down to counting off to the last day of school. Maybe part of the reason is because the older you get, the less excited you are about fresh starts or to see change as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

The young and the young at heart see a move across town or across the country as an opportunity for new beginnings, new possibilities and new adventures. For those in school, nothing is so new as the new school year. The slate is wiped clean and anything is possible.

Maybe you didn’t make the kind of grades you – or more to the point, your parents – wanted you to. Maybe your last school was dismal. No matter how dismal last year’s class or school or grades were, this is a year of new beginnings.

Each of us carries a symbol of that new beginning. It might be new clothes, a new backpack or a new computer. I know that I’m showing my age here, but for me it has always been having just the right kind of pen, one with a fine point that glides across the page. And because I am a perpetual student myself, I have to have just the right kind of notebook. If I have these two enchantments, anything is possible.

Anything is possible at the start of a new year.

It is in that sense that the new school year and Christianity intersect because the very business of Christianity is fresh starts. Our symbol of fresh starts is the cross of Jesus Christ, and in the person of Jesus we find our new beginning.

Maybe your life has felt like a series of experiments gone horribly wrong. Or you’ve made a series of wrong turns and don’t feel that you are capable of doing anything right again. You think new beginnings are best left to children and the start of school, not for grown-ups – not for you. You’ve flunked out before you even had a chance to enroll. That isn’t what Jesus wants for us. News flash: Jesus is more interested in our transformation than our transgressions.

Transformation: That’s how Jesus teaches and it’s how Jesus saves us. Jesus works from within as our Teacher. When people say Jesus changes lives, this is the kind of thing they are trying to describe. Jesus, not just as a Teacher, but a Savior, one who can work from the inside out. He doesn’t just see things from our point of view; he knows what it means to be human because he is human.

As our Lord, he knows how to set us free to be what God always meant us to be. No one else can do that. Because we were made as free creatures, we can continue to go our own way. We can see today not as a day of blessings and fresh starts but another day to be endured. That’s our choice, but that is not what Christ chose for us.

Here’s the thing. Jesus can do a lot of things but he cannot, he will not, force us to choose Him, to choose life or to choose new beginnings. Only we can do that.

In my church this Sunday we will have the Blessing of the Backpacks, and students and school personnel will bring up their backpacks and book bags to be blessed. One of my prayers is that each backpack will be stuffed with blessings for new life – the blessings of hope, of courage, of love, of compassion, of right choice and more things than I can ask or imagine.

I think one of the best blessings comes from the book of the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

That is the plan for each of us – a hope and a future.