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August 10, 2010

A Prison Escapee Went to Church…

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

No, the title is not the start of a bad joke. It was happened in Wyoming.

The Rev. Ron Kingston thought Tracy Province was just a down-on-his luck soul when he welcomed him into his church in Meeteetse, Wyoming, on Sunday morning.

He would later be surprised to learn Province was a prison escapee and convicted murderer.

Province, 10 days after he and two other inmates escaped from an Arizona prison, walked into Meeteetse Community Church wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt. He stayed for the 9:30 a.m. worship service, sang songs like “Your Grace is Enough,” and shook hands with some of the 50 or so attendees, the pastor says.

A church goer recognized the escaped Province and called the cops; he was arrested and is back in custody.

This story leads one to ponder the forgiveness of God and how we Christians live as forgiven, but have a hard time doing the same thing. The escapee, no doubt, broke the law several times and was indeed in jail paying society back for his failures. But if we really think about the forgiveness of God and how we Lutherans view it, it is so much different that how the world views repentance and forgiveness.

See, when we do something wrong, we throw ourselves on the mercy of God’s court. We repent of our failures and sins and plead for the forgiveness of God. Instead of punishing us for our sins, God reminds us that He’s already punished someone for them — namely His Son, Jesus Christ. God then removes the stain of failure and sin from us as He forgives us. And in God-speak, the forgiveness is not just for a little while, but it is forever. He forgives. He forgets our sins.

Society doesn’t believe in forgiveness the same way. If someone sins against us, we’ll end up reminding them every chance he get that they hurt us. I don’t know how many couples I’ve counseled who keep bringing up past “marital failures” years after they forgave their spouses for them.

We don’t forgive like God does.

We forgive like we do.

Society never preaches the heart of forgiveness — that is the forgetting. When we forgive someone, it is like that person never failed us, never sinned against us. But how many of us can do just that?

Now, this escapee sinned against society and society threw him in jail to pay off his debt. Escaping from prison to go against society’s justice is not good. Province will probably face a little more time behind bars. And as a society, we will all say that an extended stay in prison would be just and right.

Thanks be to God that our Father in heaven doesn’t do the same thing.

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