March 7, 2021 - Third Sunday in Lent
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Ps 19:14)
If you’ve been with us over the past two weeks, you’ll know that during this Lenten season, we are exploring some of the spiritual practices, or spiritual disciplines, that can help us focus on our humanity, devote some time to self-reflection, and practice turning towards Jesus, who waits for us on the cross on Good Friday. On the first Sunday in Lent, I talked about self-examination and prayer based upon the lectionary readings from Psalm 51 and Psalm 29. Last week, I talked about scripture based upon Romans 4:13 and Psalm 22.
Let me start today with a story. Back when I was exploring my call to ordained ministry, I met several times with the Diocesan Commission on Ministry. One of their questions was always something to the effect of “Where do you see yourself exercising your ministry in ten years and how are you living it out?” This is a difficult question to answer, no doubt. But most of the answers are apparently celebrating Eucharist at the table with a congregation. My answer surprised the commission, as I said, “Pronouncing God’s forgiveness on all those who feel they are inferior because of something they have done.”
I’ve always found that if I do something wrong or feel that something I have done has hurt someone else, it makes me feel better to talk to someone else about it. If I can’t express how it made me feel bad, it often leads to continued suffering on my part. Friends, confessing our sins brings us out of the darkness of the world and into the light of living as a follower of Christ.
We all have things in our lives that are burdens, whether that be sin, brokenness, addiction, struggles, or something else. Our natural reaction as humans is to hide those parts of ourselves from one another. But with Jesus as our Savior, we can let go of those burdens in our community of faith.
Today in Psalm 19, we read the psalmist’s words: “Who can tell how often he offends? cleanse me from my secret faults” (19:12). We hear a plea for forgiveness, for being wiped clean. We hear a plea from the psalmist to not let sins have dominion over him.
In God, there is no darkness. There is no brokenness. There is nothing that is not light. If we choose not to walk with God in the light, we are part of the darkness. But as broken creatures, we often find ourselves walking in the dark. How can we find ourselves in union once again with God to enjoy the fullness of life? By confessing our sins and experiencing forgiveness, we can find ourselves living once more in God’s light.
Repentance (more properly the Greek word μετάνοια) is a literal turning of the mind from one way of life to another. Meta means “after” or “beyond” and nous means “mind”. Put together, we get after-thought or beyond-thought. It is commonly understood as “a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion.” It means moving our lives from darkness into light, and we can only learn to live in the light if we confess our faults and sings to God, bringing them all out into the open. Repentance doesn’t just mean bringing to light our wrongdoings and shortcomings, but also wholeheartedly desiring and committing to live a new life.
We don’t have to confess our sins out loud. We have the choice to do that, if we feel a need. But God knows our inner thoughts, and if we pray and ask God to forgive us for certain things, it will be done. God doesn’t walk away from the covenant with us; it is we who walk away from God. God is always waiting there for us to return, if we but take the step and move back through confession and repentance.
The core of confession is being honest with God in our prayer. You are welcome to use the confession at the beginning of our Lenten services to confess your sins to God. It is not the priest who absolves you of your sins. I might say the words, but if you listen carefully, it is *God* who is forgiving you. I pronounce God’s forgiveness upon you. Listen again: “Almighty God who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When we return to the pews, our confession is often followed by the passing of the peace. This practice grew out of the demonstration of our common vulnerability and common reconciliation through Christ. It’s not so much a time to chat with our pewmates, but a time to understand that all who have a bond in Christ are trusted partners to be there to hear and bear the confessions of others without judgment. We are ALL forgiven in Jesus Christ.
Today’s action questions:
- How do we make sure that we are committing to reconciling with Christ?
- What would it be like if confession became an ongoing conversation for us and not just something we do every so often?
- Are you making daily space in your life for talking to God?
- What daily rhythm or practice can you do to begin practicing this more in your own life? Would one minute a day spent in reflecting on things you’re sorry for that happened yesterday help you?
- What does it look like for us as a community to begin sharing one another’s burdens and proclaiming repentance in the community around us?