|A Place of Hope|
O, O God Forgive Us
by Pastor Carlene Nisley
The church I pastor is on a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan and each week the sermon is taken from scripture that we just read. We got to start a new book this week in our Bible reading: Paul’s letter to the Romans. This letter has a special place in my spiritual life, for 2 reasons: I remember reading it for the first time as I read through the New Testament as a fresh-faced Christian at 25 years old, and the messages in it blew my mind! It was solid proof to me that the Holy Spirit was inside of me illuminating God’s Word. The second precious memory of reading Romans was as I was emerging from the fog of shock after the first few months of my grief following my husband’s death when God directed me to read this letter.
In Romans, I find a lot of answers to my “why” questions. We are given instructions in the New Testament of the way to live as Christ modeled. In this letter, Paul reminds us that it is through faith we are saved. Yet, at the same time the Old Testament’s laws, mandates and promises aren’t in opposition to a life lived in faith and should not be forgotten. In fact, Christ himself says, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17 NLT)
By the power of the Holy Spirit we each receive a “spiritual makeover”, which results in a new way of reasoning, existing, and loving. For instance, my Bible refers to Romans 6:15-19 as “Freed from Sin’s Power to Serve Righteousness.” It reads: “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
“Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.” (NLT)
As I was reading Romans this week, the heartbreaking news of the murder of George Floyd erupted. I immediately saw a connection to Paul’s teaching about the freedom we gain when we follow Christ not giving us license to continue sinning. Paul says it is a choice to follow sin or to obey Christ – depending on what we decide to make most important in our lives. Later in the letter to the Romans, Paul becomes adamant that we don’t sin in order to demonstrate God’s greatness. We look like Christ in order to demonstrate God’s greatness.
Mr. Floyd’s death comes so closely on the heels of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The loss of both of these men is heart-wrenching. Mr. Arbery was killed by vigilantes. The men responsible for his death were arrested for murder. Then, not much more than three months later, George Floyd has been killed by police officers. Both horrific incidents were caught on camera, and left each person who viewed the videos with anger, shock, tears, and a sense of loss of one’s neighbor.
At this time when the United States is so severely divided, it can appear to be spiraling out of control faster than ever. However, in reality, humans have mistreated each other since the fall, when Cain killed his brother Abel in a covetous rage. Paul doesn’t mince words in any of his letters, but, especially in his epistle to the Roman believers, builds the framework that defines the shared depravity of the human experience, making the case that the only course by which we find righteousness is through Christ. Therefore, as Christ-followers, we dare not go about our everyday lives and do nothing following the gross mistreatment of our brothers.
WE CAN ALL DO SOMETHING: Stop the racial joking and stereotyping (don’t just stop doing this yourself, stop others); keep reading the Bible to remind ourselves how Jesus tells us to treat each other; put the same value on each person as God does; treat everyone (not just those who are like you) as sisters and brothers; pray that people will turn to Love instead of hate; pray for, listen to, and support those who are called to the frontlines of this racial epidemic; keep taking videos; and continue talking about this even after it’s no longer the leading story on the news. Godspeed!
O, O God Forgive Us