I’ll never forget the moment when I first began to understand the concepts of sin and salvation. I was in the 2nd grade at Fulbright Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I was a pretty good student and made it a priority to do my best on my school work and to turn in my work on time.
But one day, I forgot.
I don’t remember why, but I simply forgot to do my homework.
When I arrived at class the next day, the teacher asked for the homework and I realized my mistake.
So, instead of owning up to my mistake.
I crafted a lie.
My mother! It was her fault that I had not been able to do that homework. She had forced me to do work with the family and had strictly forbidden me to work on homework. So, it was my mother’s fault and I would have it done tomorrow.
To my surprise, my teacher said, “OK, April. Turn it in tomorrow.”
Quite pleased I was with myself that my story had worked.
What I hadn’t planned on was my mother stopping by the school that afternoon.
Of course, when that happened, my teacher mentioned my story and I was exposed.
Again, my teacher returned and asked me again to share why I had not done my homework.
This time, I was getting more desperate. I admitted that it actually wasn’t my mother who had stopped me from doing my homework, but in fact, the librarian (which honestly right now – I can’t remember how that made sense).
Once again, my teacher said, “OK, April. Turn it in tomorrow.”
I was getting more nervous but I had dodged the bullet and the day was almost over.
The bell at the end of school rang and I was leaving the classroom.
My teacher stopped me on the way out and asked if I would come with her.
She walked me down the hallway in the direction of the library.
We stepped inside and there sitting at a table were two people: my mother and the librarian.
Now, at that moment – I knew.
The gig was up and I was exposed.
And the feeling that came through my body was a feeling of great sadness and remorse.
And in that moment – as all eyes were on me – there was one question that I was asked. “April, is there something you would like to share with us?”
There are these moments in our lives where we know that we are really being seen for who we are – where the truth of our lives is exposed before others and we can no longer hide. All of us have probably had those moments.
But something else often happens in those moments as well –
We are often also able to see ourselves. The exposure of the truth is not just for others but it is for us as well – and we can no longer pretend that something else is true about our lives.
And those moments are incredibly formative for us – because in this place of great vulnerability – the way in which we perceive others to be responding to us – has an incredible impact. Are we still loved? Do we still have a place? Do we still have meaning and worth? Can we experience forgiveness?
This is exactly the place where our Psalmist finds themselves in Psalm 51 today.
This particular psalm is often attributed to David – and there is a footnote there that says that this is possibly the psalm that David wrote after he had an affair with a woman named Bathsheba and then to cover up his ordeal, he had her husband Uriah killed in battle. David’s close friend and confidante, Nathan, comes to visit him, and tells David that he sees him. That he sees what David has done.
The truth is exposed and not only does David know that he is exposed in truth before his friend Nathan, but he also sees the truth exposed before his own eyes and even more importantly, before God.
And then David writes this Psalm – a song of music that comes out of a place of remorse and sadness and guilt. Out of a place where he has found himself utterly exposed. And he is asking those questions as well – will I still be loved? Can I be forgiven? Will I ever find Joy?
For I cannot save myself.
Salvation is a phrase that we Christians use a lot. Jesus saves us from our sins. Jesus is our Savior. Jesus died on the cross to save us from being separated from God forever.
Salvation is a really important part of the Christian story – but it’s not always an easy concept to explain.
Exactly how does Jesus’ death save us? Save us from what? Is it just about heaven or hell or is there something else much deeper going on here?
Jesus talked about salvation a lot during his ministry – he doesn’t explain it – but he just does it.
When a woman marked as a sinner came to see Jesus at the home of a respected official in the church, she wept and poured perfume on Jesus’ feet and washed his feet. The truth of her sins was exposed and she humbled herself before Jesus. And in this moment of great vulnerability, Jesus says to her “your faith has saved you. Go in peace”
When Zacchaeus, a dishonest tax collector, met Jesus – he was utterly exposed. Jesus says to him. I see you Zacchaeus. I am going to dine and eat with you. And in their time together, the truth became clear and he decided to repay all the people twofold for the $$ he had stolen. At the end of this visit, Jesus said that “today salvation has come to this house.” The truth of Zacchaeus’ life was exposed and then the invitation to live differently was made possible.
In both cases, people found themselves to be utterly vulnerable and exposed before Jesus. Everything that was true about them was there – revealed to the very God of the universe.
But it was Jesus’ response to them – responding to them in love, forgiveness and an invitation to live life differently. It was the response that saved them.
Jesus exposed the truth about us, that we are broken and sinful, but his response is to offer blessing, forgiveness, and new life. People experienced salvation not because they saw the mess they were in, but because Jesus invited them to a life of forgiveness, , healing, and redemption.
Jesus reminded people that their brokenness and sin do not tell the final story – that God has infinite love for them but also infinite possibilities.
Jesus’ exposure of truth and constant invitation to people to live differently and to have hope in what was possible - led him all the way to the cross.
But the truth could not be killed.
And the truth would be even more fully exposed when Jesus rose again on the 3rd day.
Jesus is indeed our savior and Jesus saves us from our sins.
And the moment we realize this is a powerful one.
In November of 2000, I knelt beside my bed in Rocky Mount, North Carolina where I was a teacher at the time. And I prayed. I prayed that Jesus would come into my life and save me, that Jesus would be my savior and that I would live a life that was different.
And that moment was real and powerful and I knew that I was forgiven and loved and has indeed changed me.
But Jesus has continued to save me many, many times since then.
Over and over, I find myself, like David – making mistakes and getting myself into mess after mess, and utterly exposed before God.
And over and over, I find a response of forgiveness and love, inviting me to live differently in the future. Reminding me of what is true and what is possible.
And I find over and over again – that Jesus is still saving me.
Saved me from horrible mistakes, saved me from hurtful words, saved me from living a life without meaning or purpose, saved me from thinking that I didn’t matter or that I wasn’t loved.
And Jesus is constantly saving me from the idea that I need more stuff, that I need more things to make me happy.
And Jesus is trying daily to save me from the idea that I cannot in fact do anything about the systems and powers of evil that I see in the world.
And Sometimes on a Sunday morning when I am running late on finishing my sermon on Salvation and Redemption and I lose my temper at my 2 year old for waiting 30 seconds after getting off the potty to proceed to poop all over himself.
Even in those moments, I find salvation and redemption in a God who is filled with love and forgiveness and healing.
And that love, that forgiveness, that healing – it changes us – it heals us.
Salvation is a process, and as we willingly expose more of the truth about us – we find that God’s response is always one of healing and love and forgiveness – helping us to move toward hope, and possibility and new life.
This is exactly what we celebrate in the sacrament of Baptism. We celebrate the fact that we are a people who have been saved. It has happened and it continues to happen.
That while we may be a mess, while we are in fact sinners, people capable of living according to a lie and participating in the kinds of things that tear apart ourselves and our communities, and yet, we are made new – we are capable of hope, healing, forgiveness, and extraordinary possibility. We are saved. We participate in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and as beloved creations, we are being made new.
God is not finished with us yet!
And so we will first celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism for one young person and then we will be inviting you to come forward and to remember your baptism… and as we prepare for our offering – we invite you to think about all the ways that God has and is seeking to offer you salvation. Perhaps there is a moment that you remember in your life, where you were utterly exposed before God and you received in that moment forgiveness, grace and salvation.