1 John 1:1-10
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Already and not yet…
Every week, during our worship services we spend time confessing our sins before God both as a group and as individuals. And then awaiting the assurance of God’s Pardon and Forgiveness. William A. Dyrness reminds us why the Confession and Assurance of Pardon is so important. “Confession is necessary, quite simply, because we are sinners……confession is not only a necessary part of worship but also provides a healthy orientation to reality…we are sinners. All of our relationships—with God, with each other, and with creation—are damaged. Shalom, God’s original intent for us, has been destroyed. The meaning of the confession of sin and the assurance of pardon is very profound: it is the place in worship where shalom between God and people is restored. Christ has reconciled the believer to God and opened the way for us to worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). In addition, shalom between people can take a genuine step forward in the prayer of confession. When the congregation together prays, “Lord, have mercy,” and when each individual silently prays, “create in me a clean heart, O god.” The Spirit of God finds new paths for reconciliation and joy…the confession and the assurance are, in reality, a celebration of the identity if the congregation as a community of the baptized….we are both humbled in our recognition that we do not deserve to be in the presence of almighty God and yet deeply at home with our loving Father.” A More Profound Alleluia)
For me, the prayer of confession, the opportunity for individual confession and then the proclamation of God’s forgiveness, is one of my favorite parts of the service. I find it so freeing. To know I have fallen short and being meet with grace and love and mercy and feeling the guilt fall away, wash away. When I close my eyes to pray, I imagine coming before God guilty and confessing where I have fallen short and where I need help to grow. And then I visualize the grace and light that washes over us all when we repent. When we are meet with forgiveness. And just as it is important to repent, it is also important to accept that forgiveness, love and mercy. That is extended to a truly repentant heart. That we are told of in 1st John, 1, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Before the reformation, there was a huge focus on guilt and hell and purgatory. And sin, sin, sin. And that is important to remember that we are sinners, but it is also important to remember that we are saved and freed by grace. The reformers instituted a shift in focus that was Biblically based. And there is now an emphasis on grace and forgiveness. But those who were early converts right after the reformation were so engrained and entrenched by the constant reminder that they were sinners, they struggled to accept the assurance of pardon when it followed the confession. J. Dudley Weaver tells of a story, following the Reformation; “The service began with opening sentences from Psalm 124: ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’ This was followed by a prayer of confession and then by a biblical word of comfort and an absolution. ‘Let each of you truly acknowledge that he is a sinner, humbling himself before God, and believe that the heavenly Father wills to be gracious unto him in Jesus Christ. To all those that repent in this way, and look to Jesus Christ for their salvation, I declare that the absolution of sins is effected, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This worked well enough in Stranbourg, but in Geneva the people showed their objection to the practice of absolution by jumping to their feet before the end of the confession to avoid the absolution, Calvin gave in to their objection.” (Presbyterian Worship J. Dudley Weaver Jr. 17) They were so overwhelmed by the idea that they were forgiven people and not just sinners, that they would say the prayer of confession, but then jump to their feet and be so loud that the minister couldn’t give them the assurance of pardon.
But American culture today, doesn’t like the words sin. People struggle to admit that they are sinners. But if we read scripture and live surrounded by people, we know that sin is real. There are different types of sin, there is individual sin. The sins we commit… gossiping, hoarding what God has given us, not being kind…the list goes on and on. There is corporate sin, which is the sins we commit as being part of a bigger picture- sin we sometimes don’t even recognize that we are participating in or that we justify, by saying that’s just how society is…sins like wearing products that were made by slave labor, what we are doing to God’s creation, unequal distribution of wealth…sin….everywhere we look sin. But we don’t have to be slaves to it. Jesus shows us another way. A way where we express dependence on God and let ourselves be washed of sins, and strive for a better world. A world of Shalom.
The Prayer of Confession is part of our liturgy and the world liturgy means work of the people. The prayer of confession and assurance of pardon is part of our liturgy every week. In the Presbyterian Church we have two sacraments, The Lord’s Supper and the Baptismal Font. In these we are reminded of the grace and forgiveness of God. How we are washed free from our sins. And this month we celebrated the Resurrection of our Messiah. So, if we believe this and we have seen Jesus and follow Jesus, how do we still sin? Now, I don’t know about you, but I need the Prayer of Confession every week. My soul needs it, my body needs it. I need to be told to stop and confess and pray to G-d, and then feel the rush of mercy and forgiveness fall over me like a waterfall.
One if the central courses we take in Seminary is Intro to Systematic Theology. And it was actually taught by two incredible professors, Dr. Martha Moore-Keish and George W. Stroup. And I actually visited their class when I was visiting Seminary, and the day I was attending Martha was the main teacher (they instructed us to call them by their first time) and I didn’t realize that it was taught by two professors. And you should know, one of these cool things about Seminary is that God calls people at different times in their lives, so there is significant diversity among the students in everything from ethnicity, economics, gender, sexual identity and age. So there were a variety of ages in the class. And Martha was standing up front, and she would talk and every once in awhile George was pipe in, occasionally interrupting here. And he was sitting in the back amongst the students. And I didn’t realize that he was a co-professor and this was how they taught. And I remember thinking- wow- this student is incredibly rude. Only much later when I started attending there, did I realize what a huge blessing these two professors are and were to me.
And the book you heard me quote from before is actually one of Martha’s books, and in another wonderful book, Feasting on the Word, George writes, “ Sin is both an act and a state or condition, sinners can neither extract themselves from their self-deception or claim victimization and deny their responsibility for it. They are utterly dependent on something (or someone) other than themselves to free them from their lie.”
So if we are baptized, and Jesus has conquered death and sin, why are we still struggling, why confess each week? It’s something that Martha and George taught me about entitled, “Already and Not Yet.” It means that the work has began but it’s not done yet. And I am going to give you an example that I’m not sure Martha and George would agree with all the implications of. But it’s a bit like my hair. My hair is naturally straight, but sometimes I wish it was curly. And when I put it into a curler, it is somewhere in between straight and curly. And Jesus is sort of acting like a curler in our life- changing our shape and form and it doesn’t happen instantly… because this world is so entrapped with sin and struggle we believe that even though we can get better at following Christ- we will never have perfectly curly hair until we get to heaven. We are already transformed but not yet fully transformed.
Ronald Cole-Turner writes, For now, we live in a social world characterized by violence and greed. Not only that, but our own lives are twisted and tangled by a combination of our own sin and the effects of the sins of others. We are broken and incomplete, yearning for a peace and a holiness that we do not yet possess. Yes, the world does not understand us, because we have been given a new identity. But in a deeper sense, we do not understand ourselves, because we live with a double identity, old and new. We are being transformed, but for now the juxtaposition of old and new is often bewildering, making us incomprehensible to ourselves…in hope we cling to the truth of what G-d is doing to us.” Feasting on the Word
So we come before G-d and confess our sins, and are meet with love and forgiveness. Thank G-d, that G-d’s mercies are new every morning!