Desmond’s Future and Dolly’s Pardon

Sermon Audio from April 11, 2021

In episode two of the 2019 podcast Dolly Parton’s America the host highlights Dolly’s big break on the Porter Wagoner show in 1967. 

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

She was brought on as eye candy but quickly proved herself a formidable songwriter and entertainer in her own right. This created conflict with Wagoner, the show’s rhinestone-studded host. In fact, the rumors of her mistreatment by him are disturbing to say the least.

By the end of the episode we learn that when Dolly left the show Wagoner sued her for a million dollars based on old contracts, and royalties that he said were due him. It threatened to sink her, but she paid it all. Soon after, Porter made some bad investments with that money and lost it all. Now he was the one sinking in debt. Dolly called him, she had compassion on him. She bailed him out. She forgave him, paid his debt, and then some.

The podcast overall tells the story of how Dolly Parton’s appeal transcends borders, creeds, and political ideologies. From Maga hats, to rainbow flags, to Middle Eastern nomads, to Sub Saharan Africans, Dolly is beloved throughout the world. Near the end of the episode the host turns to Dolly and says, “I have a theory that one of the reasons that you can have the crazy broad appeal that you have into so many different communities that normally hate each other is because of those acts of forgiveness.” 

Dolly responds, “Forgiveness? Forgiveness is all there is.” 

“This is the message,” John says, “God is light.” 

In him there is no darkness at all. If you don’t walk in this light, if you stay in the shadows, you’ve missed something entirely. You’ve missed everything. The light that is God, revealed in Christ who forgives our sin, that’s all there is. 

I have been a Christian all my life and I still get caught off guard by what the scriptures and the early church choose to say first about Easter. From very early on, First John and other sources insist that the first thing Easter proves isn’t the life everlasting, or even the resurrection of the body. The first thing a Risen Jesus proves is the forgiveness of sins. This is the conclusion of those who heard him forgive those that had betrayed him, denied him, deserted him, and killed him. This is the message from those who have now seen him raised, and heard him speak, and touched him with their hands.

God is light, John says, and if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and with God through the blood of Jesus his Son which cleanses us from all sin. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Around the same time when Dolly pardoned Porter, Desmond Tutu became Archbishop of Cape Town South Africa during the collapse of apartheid, their system of racial segregation. 

As that system collapsed, unspeakable violence took place. White officials of the state and black freedom fighters clashed and assassinations were common and gastly. 

Eventually the church was asked to step in and help in a process of reconciliation. These two sides, Blacks, and Whites, had inflicted so much pain, particularly the whites on the Blacks, that they weren’t sure if they could ever live in a more unified society, in fellowship with one another. 

In came Archbishop Tutu and others with a radical solution. How about we tell the truth? 

In a situation such as this, if any says they have not sinned, they are a liar. If we say we are God’s children and cannot confess our sins to one another, we make God a liar, for God has reconciled us. God is Light. God is Forgiveness. And God is with us. Therefore, let us walk in the Light. 

Televised Truth and Reconciliation Commission

And so they began a process called the Truth and Reconciliation commission where perpetrators of heinous acts were invited to tell the truth about what they’ve done, to confess, and the survivors of their actions were in turn invited to tell the whole truth about the impact on their lives. But the pre-condition and end goal of this whole process was forgiveness. Pardon for the perpetrator, the truth for victims, forgiveness for all. 

Archbishop Tutu wrote a book about this experience. It’s titled with a phrase he used often during this process. The book is titled No Future Without Forgiveness. 

We have no future without forgiveness, Tutu said. First John puts it this way, if we say that we have no sin, if we refuse to acknowledge the truth, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But, if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

No future without forgiveness. Forgiveness is all there is. 

When we baptize someone in the church, there’s a line that the congregation says, a promise we make to those being baptized. When asked if we will include the baptized persons in our care, the church responds, “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, so that they can walk in the way that leads to life.” 

To be the church, to live life after Easter, is to walk in the Light that John, and Desmond, and Dolly have all seen. God is light, only light. And because this Light comes to us in Jesus, we now know that this light is the light of forgiveness and not just for our sins but the sins of the whole world. 

In Christ, there is no future without forgiveness. Forgiveness is all there is. This is the message. 

Thanks be to God.

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