Sin, Salvation, and the All-Encompassing Belongingness of God

If my week had a theme, it might be noticing sin.

This week I’ve been forced to own up to the way I let a relationship go and chose avoidance and dishonesty over facing challenging conversations.  And in coming to terms with it, I have had to see that, compounded by years of silence, honestly dealing with it will cause more hurt, and the only way out of it with integrity is to go ahead and tell the truth anyway.
It’s uncomfortable to see sin, both past and present, in my life, and it feels awful, but also good to see it so I can deal with it.

Sin is when we fail to live consistent with who we are made and called to be – when we violate our belonging to God and one another.  It can be personal and internal – letting go of anger, dealing with pride, or self-judgment, and we’re stuck to wrestle inside ourselves with our failure to live consistent with who we are made and called to be. It an be between us, words and actions that hurt or degrade people, that violate the bond we’re meant to share as human beings and act as though we are against instead of for one another.  But most often, it’s both.

This country has a deep sin, our original sin, the sin of racism, which means first of all categorizing people as fundamentally different by the color of their skin, and then labeling some people better, more human or more worthy, and other people worse, less human and less worthy. Then that belief is built into a whole society’s structures and functions so that consistently, both overtly and subtly, for generations, some people are treated as less than and other people as more than, rooting this lie deep inside all people.

Right now our nation is noticing its sin.  
By virtue of the sin itself some people have always noticed it, because it affects their every waking day and it can never be escaped, and others, because they don’t often feel directly impacted by it, can ignore it and look away for weeks, years, even decades at a time.
But right now we cannot look away. 
And it feels awful to be staring at this thing together, this sin at our core, both past and present, but I imagine for those who among us who have stared at it their whole life, it feels good too, to see so many other faces staring at it at once. 

Right now most of this country is looking at the same ugliness and evil and calling a thing what it is. This is a huge part of God’s salvation.
Calling a thing what it is, naming your own story, your own culpability, your own participation in evil, recognizing and saying aloud the way Sin works in you and through you is the only way to salvation. 
We call it Confession or Repentance. 
It’s what comes before forgiveness, but after the grace of God.

God’s grace always comes first. God’s grace is where it starts. 
We begin in abundance and enough for all, harmony and unity in crazy wild and vibrant diversity, all people sharing together in caring for this gorgeous earth and its creatures, all of us made more human by our shared humanity, learning and growing alongside one another. The Way of God is our beginning and our end. 
Anything that takes us away from that is a lie.

We live the lie every day in our country. 
Whether we feel the sting of it in the moment or not, we participate in that lie. Just to illustrate this lie at work, I live in the neighborhood where Philando Castile was shot. He had been pulled over by police 52 times in 13 years. Want to know how many times I have been pulled over in my 26 years of driving? Four.  I was speeding all four times. Two of them I was let off with a warning. As a white woman, I have always felt safe with the police, confident that they are there to protect me. And if I get in trouble it’s because I deserve it, and they are upholding laws that keep us all safe.

Respect, kindness, mutuality, safety - these should not be a privilege. 
We belong to God and we belong to each other.  
Anything less than that is violence to the image of God.

But here is part of the trap – the way of fear, the sin of division, and devaluing each other is so ingrained, that we operate out of that without thinking, without noticing. 
In longing for justice for all, we could settle for revenge against some.  
And wouldn’t it feel so good to hate haters with a more hate than they hate? 
But choosing which people to hate has never been and will never be the answer. And just trying really hard to be good and right and never mess up or hurt others isn’t the answer either (not least of all because it is impossible).
The answer is facing our sin with honesty, letting the sorrow and horror of it wash over us, stepping into our brokenness alongside each other is the place God can meet us and heal us.  In Jesus Christ God so loved the world that God plunged right in alongside and with us into all of it, calling all people children of God, calling all people back to God.  And taking on all sin and evil and division into his very self, God-with-us let it take his life, and then came back to say love is stronger than death. In Christ's complete connection to God and each other, we find the belonging that sets us free to truly live.

Our Psalm today has a repeated refrain: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Steadfast love is one of the ways the Hebrew word Hesed is translated. Remember Hesed? It was in the story of Ruth and Naomi that we told years ago, and it is all throughout the bible. It’s translated many ways, love, kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, loyalty, favor, devotion, goodness – it captures something of the inner connection and commitment God has toward us, so for years, we’ve called hesed: belongingness.

The belongingness of God is eternal. Nobody is outside of it; nobody gets to put others outside of it. It lasts forever. 
Human beings who have been judged less than and treated as unworthy, they belong to God and belong us.  
Human beings who have grown up sheltered from the suffering of others, benefiting where others don’t, they belong to God and belong to us.  
Human beings who are so filled with hatred and violence they forget their own humanity and purposely dehumanize others, they belong to God and belong to us.  (So then is incumbent on human beings who long for justice and peace not to agree with them and let them off the hook by dismissing them as monsters when they act inhumanely, but instead to call them back to their humanity and hold them accountable it).

The way of fear that says there is only so much belonging to go around – that if we give it to some we must withhold it from others. But the belongingness of God is neverending – eternal – constantly replenishing, spreading and multiplying, claiming us back to the love we came from, the love we are here for, the belongingness we are meant to live into and out of alongside each other.
It doesn’t let us go when we hurt each other, or when we believe the lie about others or about ourselves. Instead it calls us back to confession and repentence, the place where salvation can meet us.

The salvation of God, often called in scripture, the rest of God, is returning to our core, belongingness, being brought back into harmony with God, ourselves and each other, where our souls can be at rest in trust, and we can live consistently with who we are and whose we are. 
Our Psalm today tells of God’s specific salvation, restoration of belongingness, felt right where people needed it most – in their sin and its terrible consequences, in times terror and helplessness, when they were lost or alone, or had reached the end of their capacity to adapt or cope in a crisis.  Each vignette is a story of people who confessed, who recognized their situation – noticed it and cried out to God- And God saved them.

Salvation comes as deliverance from what is holding us captive, wholeness where we are broken, direction where we are lost, and connection where we are severed. It comes as hope in despair and new beginnings after bitter endings.  As this Psalm illustrates, the salvation of God always brings to us just what will heal us – even if it isn’t necessarily what we think it should be – because it is always about restoring us to belongingness in God, and that is not always comfortable, or easy, or fun.  
And it doesn’t mean dead people come back (yet), fortunes are reversed, the world is suddenly fair, or pain we’ve caused can be taken back and erased. But it means the way forward in Christ is deep and true connection to God and each other.  This is where it all began and it’s where it will end up when all is said and done.

So, as brothers and sisters in Christ, the Body of the living Christ here on earth, embodying God’s belongingness in and for the world, we are not to fear the lie that tries to mislead us, or hide us from the pain and suffering of others. 
We are not to fear the lie that says violence is stronger than love, or that hating is ok as long as you direct it at the right people. 
And we are not to fear looking into our own souls and our own actions for the evil and sin that keeps us from belongingness and withholds it from others.

We are to confess them out in the open where salvation can meet them.  
And we are to live the crazy trust that God’s abundant and neverending love and steadfast belongingness is bigger than our sin, wider than our divisions, deeper than our pain and our alienation, and higher than our human goals and aspirations.  

God’s steadfast love is eternal and beyond us, and right here next to us; it embraces and claims us, so we can see each other, listen to each other, confront each other, forgive each other, and thank the Lord for God’s steadfast love, For God’s wonderful works to humankind.

This Psalm was written to be read out, sung out, spoken by a community as a kind of call and response; it was meant to be shared by a diverse gathering of people rejoicing together.  It places them within a bigger story, the eternal belongingness of God throughout history, in the lives of those gone before and yet to come, God redeems and heals and restores. And so it becomes an invitation to honestly recount the stories of their need, and share how God has been faithful in their lives, and to name where they need salvation now, and remember God’s belongingness that holds and heals them even as they are belonging to each other in this act of sharing it all aloud.

So here is what I would share:

Some were forced to acknowledge that their own actions had wounded another.  By avoiding conflict and distress, they’d let dishonesty and division grow.  They felt ashamed and dismayed at the further hurt coming clean would cause.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And God delivered them from their distress:
God helped them look honestly at themselves, and confess to the person,
to see that forgiveness and reconciliation can only emerge when you tell the truth.
Let them thank the Lord for God’s steadfast love,
For God’s wonderful works to humankind.
For God persists in calling us to belonging,
and offers endless opportunities to make things right, even when it feels hard.

Some were watching their country in turmoil,
as deep sin and evil rose up from within and made itself known once again.
Anger, violence, sorrow and distress surrounded them,
And they felt like they were drowning in the noise of arguing and blaming, 
lamenting and shaming, calling to action and name calling,
and they longed for clarity, direction and hope.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And God delivered them from their distress:
God brought them side by side with someone in silence to lift up this nation in prayer. 
God reminded them that forgiveness and salvation can only come after confession and repentance. And God showed them stories of people facing our sin and turning toward each other in belonging.
Let them thank the Lord for God’s steadfast love,
For God’s wonderful works to humankind.
For God brings life out of death, always, and God will never stop, God’s justice will prevail.

Let all who are wise give heed to these things,

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