“You are Forgiven”
Beechmont Presbyterian Church
Rev. Debbie Blane
My visa has come through and I am working on my airline tickets for beginning the journey back to South Sudan. It is about a two to three days journey. I will leave Louisville one day and the next day or the day after I will be in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
I will be returning to a war-torn country, still warring, not yet at peace. No one knows when, or if, peace will come.
I teach theology at the Nile Theological College in South Sudan. The college used to be in a place called Malakal, near the border with northern Sudan. Malakal was destroyed early on in this civil war. So now the college will be in Juba.
I teach theology. I consider this is a miraculous thing. I will again teach theology to a group of students who are traumatized, wounded physically and emotionally and spiritually, and who may hate each other depending on how deep their tribalism reaches.
While I was not evacuated from South Sudan with the war, many of my colleagues were. I left the country on December 13, 2013 to have Christmas in Ethiopia; the violence broke out first in Juba on the 15th of December. I missed it by a whisper.
When I left I expected to back in South Sudan in a month, and I was to begin teaching again soon after that. I was to teach the Theology class of Sin and Salvation.
I see the irony in this. Sin and Salvation. And the great great gift.
A people have been plunged into evil darkness and I was to teach the class on Sin and Salvation.
Sin sucks a person dry. It eats a person from the inside out. Sin is hate. Sin is the desire for revenge. Sin is seeing one’s parents, one’s wife or husband, one’s children, murdered in front of you. Sin is somehow escaping being murdered just to spend the rest of your life figuring out how to find justice for those murders. You want to murder the person who murdered your people.
That is sin.
Salvation. That one is not quite as obvious.
There are the folks that believe that saving a soul is salvation. This may well be a part of salvation, but it is not the whole story. Not by a long shot.
Salvation is learning how to live again.
Salvation is learning how to bare one’s soul to Christ and say,
This is it.
This is who I am
I was not merciful
And I hurt so bad now because of the things I did, the things that I thought, and the things that I wanted – that sometimes I want to die.
Or I hurt so bad now because of the things that were done to me, the things that I thought, and the things that I wanted – that sometimes I want to do.
Sometimes salvation is doing one of the hardest things of all.
Sometimes salvation is knowing that we are forgiven.
Once we accept that forgiveness, then salvation becomes forgiving ourselves.
The passages today from our Scriptures tell us about God’s great, great faithfulness. The passages also reveal to us that the one thing that really matters in the end is our own FAITH.
Abraham’s FAITH was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham was far from perfect. In other parts of Genesis we find that Abraham at one point even passed off his wife, Sarah, off as his sister to save his own skin in an uncomfortable situation. He put her in danger because he was afraid. And still God established a covenant with Abraham.
Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands when God was slow to provide the heir known as Isaac. That chapter in our faith history illustrates some very dysfunctional family dynamics and yet God still established a covenant with Abraham.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us about the story of Abraham and the covenant. This story is clearly important as a part of our own faith story.
In the Presbyterian Church membership is open to all who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God. After baptism the only requirement for membership is faith. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you have faith in Jesus Christ?
There is an understanding that everything, EVERYTHING, follows from that faith.
Confession of sins.
Realization of how that sin has defined one’s life and the lives of those around us.
A realization that without Jesus Christ we are hollow shells of humanity.
The most important piece of the journey, what changes us and brings us to our knees is knowing that:
WE ARE FORGIVEN.
We sin and we are forgiven. The thing of it is that eventually the forgiveness leads us to becoming new creations. That is, when we have faith in Jesus Christ and we live our lives from that faith, eventually we will become different people.
If I am an artist I will probably still be an artist, the core of who we are is still there. The difference is how I see the world and the people around me. I will see them from the eyes of a person that has been forgiven and healed.
THIS is what I will teach my students in South Sudan when I return to teach them about Sin and Salvation.
Yes, you have done some terrible things. Yes, you have had some terrible things done to you. But the whole time Jesus was with you. Not preventing the things, but instead walking with you, holding you, loving you. And in the midst of the very worst of what you were doing, forgiving you. And in the midst of the very worst that were being done to you, forgiving the person doing it.
As hard as it is to let go of the desire for revenge, our journey with Christ will enable us to be able to do that eventually.
I thank God for the messed up people that are portrayed in the faith stories in our Bible. Through their mistakes and the humanity that is portrayed in their stories we can know that indeed even when we are the worst that we can be, we are still loved and we are still FORGIVEN.
Do not sin so that forgiveness abounds. Instead know that the forgiveness and the healing that comes with that forgiveness will lead to having less of a tendency to desire sin.
We are forgiven. We are new people.
Thanks be to God!