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Pastor Dwight Dolby

“How did it come to this?”

It was a very low point in Marjorie’s life. Her marriage was unraveling and two of their adult children had made it clear they were not bringing the “grands” home again until “Dad and Mom” addressed their toxic relationship in earnest.

Of course, for a long time Marjorie blamed Stan. From her perspective, he had been in denial for years. More recently, however, she had begun to acknowledge they both had some ghosts in the closet.

Even today, there was a more reflective tone in her voice, something suggesting she might want to save the marriage. She said she had found an old photo album over the weekend and as she slowly turned the pages, she found herself laughing and crying at the same time.

When God reveals in the Bible that human beings are “fallen” (see Genesis 1-4 to see what went wrong), He is not talking about somebody else. He is talking about you and me. He’s addressing all of us.

Statements like “nobody’s perfect” or “we’re just human” are trifling cover-ups of the deeper truth we seek to avoid. We’re each a mess, no matter our color.

Thankfully, when Jesus came into the world, we were told he didn’t come to condemn it (John 3:16, 17) but to “save it.”

Think of Jesus sitting down beside you in an unguarded moment as you are leafing through the photo album of your life, laughing and crying at the same time.

Imagine Jesus saying to you kindly, “There was a father with two sons. The younger one selfishly demanded his inheritance early, left home with it and made a mess of his life. Things went from bad to worse for this young man until one day he was at the lowest of his lows. He began to think of his dad again, and it dawned upon him that his dad was the one person in his life who had really loved him.

“He felt the pang in his own heart of how cavalier he had been and unappreciative he had been toward him. He decided to head back home and seek forgiveness and ask his dad if he could stay with the ranch hands in the barn and work his way back into his dad’s favor.

“So he headed up the road toward home. His father saw him coming from a distance, and with a great swell of love in his heart, he literally ran down the road to meet him, saw him in his rags and put a beautiful robe over him. He then returned home with his son and threw a great party and welcomed him, of course, right back into the house.”

You likely recognized the story above as the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus purposed it to reveal two hearts.

The one heart, of course, is the heart of the son, realizing its mess and turning toward his father seeking forgiveness. The other heart is that of the father, full of forgiveness and love.

It’s one of the memorable photos in God’s family album. However, it’s not the best one.

When Jesus met with His disciples after his death on the cross and his resurrection, he sought to make clear to them what had just happened.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you (before his crucifixion), that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled …. Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations ….” (Luke 24:44-47)

Where do we take the messes we are in with our assorted racism, pride, selfishness, judgmental spirits, envy, infidelity, self-righteousness and lies, even as we sit in judgment on everyone else?

The center picture in the Bible is that of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross. That is where our Heavenly Father wants us to take the messes we are.

Jesus describes himself elsewhere as the way home to the Father. So, behind the cross we see the Father’s heart — not purposing to condemn us (like the rest of the voices we hear), but to save us.

On the cross His own Son willingly bore (out of love for His father and love for us) the condemnation and died the death we justly deserve for all the deeply buried and shameful photos in our own album.

In the words of Isaiah, “the Lord laid on him the iniquities of us all.” Through Christ’s death, and our embracing of it, we each can know forgiveness with God and with each other.

The Church of Jesus Christ has been tasked with one message, and I give it to you again here: There is the God who fashioned you who knows the truth of your heart’s story. He sits down beside you today and tells you there is forgiveness for you in Jesus Christ.

Dwight Dolby is pastor of Auburn Road Presbyterian Church.

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