Tag Archive | confession

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (year B), 2015 (preached 6/7/15)

first reading:  Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

second reading:  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

gospel reading:  Mark 3:20-35

There’s an old saying that I’m sure most of us have heard before – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our world has changed remarkably in the past one hundred years.  There have been amazing life-changing advancements – we’ve gone from riding on horses to speeding in cars and flying in planes, to sending people into space.

We have cures for diseases that used to threaten and kill.  Technology allows us to see our insides without a doctor having to make a single cut.  Encyclopedias and dictionaries are just about obsolete – if you want to know about something, just google it.

The world is indeed a different place, a changed place, from where it was just a hundred years ago.  And it is most certainly different than it was in the time when Jesus taught the crowds in parables.  And it is almost a completely different world than the one in which Adam and Eve lived.

But – “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Raffaello (1483-1520)

Raffaello (1483-1520)

It is true that our outer lives, the stuff that surrounds us, differs dramatically from the time of the first people, but INSIDE, we see in our reading from Genesis, that since the beginning of the world itself, we have NOT changed very much.

All the technology and comforts that surround us have not been able to fix our human, instinctive desire to shirk from responsibility for our bad behavior.

Those of us who are parents, or who have cared for children, know this.  We “catch” children in a “wrong” activity, and one child says, “It’s not my fault, SHE made me do it!”  And the other says, “No, HE made me do it!”  Sound familiar?  Sounds an awful lot like Adam and Eve.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What do most adults in our day and age do when they are confronted with a fault within themselves, or something they shouldn’t have done?  We try to shift the blame off of ourselves, to move the responsibility for our bad behavior onto another person, or create some reason to excuse ourselves.

Adam – had the ultimate audacity.  He not only pointed the finger at Eve, he point his finger at GOD.

He didn’t just say, “The woman made me do it.”  He said, “The woman, whom YOU gave to be with me made me do it.”  In other words, “If you hadn’t given her to me Lord, I wouldn’t be in this trouble – so it’s really YOUR fault.” Sounds an awful lot like my son!  He also tries to make it MY fault when he does something wrong.

Eve doesn’t do much better.  She may not blame God for her mistake, but she also tries to point the blame elsewhere. “The serpent tricked me.”  “Don’t look at me Lord.  It’s not my fault.  It’s the serpent’s fault.”  Adam and Eve point the finger of blame at everyone but themselves.

But does it work?  Does God excuse Adam because Eve “made” him eat of the tree?  Does God excuse Eve because the serpent tricked her into eating from the tree?  Nope.  God holds all of them, even the serpent, responsible for their behavior, and the role they played in acting out the first sin:  disobedience – going against the direct command of God.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Human nature has changed very little over these thousands of years.  We still do the same, in our society, and even with God – even though we don’t have to.

Why are we so prone to running from our sins, trying to hide them, deny them even to ourselves and to God – when we have a God that is ready and wanting to forgive us?

None of us are without sin, without thoughts and actions we regret, things we wish we hadn’t done.  We confess this every Sunday at the beginning of worship.  “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” taken from the first letter of John.

But do we allow the deep meaning of those words to enter our hearts?  Do we use those words to confront ourselves, to humble ourselves before one another and before the Lord?  Or do we say those words and try not to think about it too much, or run from them altogether?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Adam and Eve learned the hard way that we can’t hide from God, and it’s impossible to run from ourselves.  I wonder why, age after age, we have to remind ourselves of this? Why do we run and hide, when through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of ALL our sins and the gift of eternal life?

As we heard in our second reading, “we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” And, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

What wonderful words.  What wonderful promises.

They should make us unafraid to say, “Yes, I made this mistake.  I was WRONG.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.”

But just because the promises should make us unafraid, doesn’t mean they do.  Because – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When most of us think of the story of The Fall, we think of disobedience – the first sin – but perhaps a large part of it is also DENIAL.

Not the kind of denial that is the deep psychological inability to see something – the denial that is the cover up of what we know is wrong.

Political careers, stardom, and even everyday relationships are killed by that kind of denial – it’s been happening since Adam and Eve.

And it’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be.

For just as “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” is true of our fallen nature – the more things stay the same is also true of God’s natureforgiveness, given to us through Jesus Christ.




forgiveness vs. getting away with

When I was doing my C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education) as a hospital chaplain while in seminary, I was called to see a woman who was described by the nurses on her unit as “depressed.”  She requested a visit from a chaplain, and so I was called.  All I knew about the woman when I walked into her room was that she had been in a terrible automobile accident and had been a patient for about a month.

After introducing myself and exchanging some social niceties I asked her why she wanted to see a chaplain.  She proceeded to tell me the story of her accident.  She had been drunk and had caused the accident which brought her to the hospital.  She had extensive injuries and some setbacks as she was trying to recover and she was convinced that God was punishing her for drinking and driving.  She was desperate to get back “right” with God, and would I help her with that?

I’ve been thinking about this woman a lot the last few days since the “Duggar situation” has exploded. Why? Because the pastoral/theological counsel I gave to her is exactly the same as my reaction to those who say that we should just move on from this – that Josh Duggar confessed, asked forgiveness, received forgiveness from those he abused (although I seriously have doubts about forgiveness granted so quickly by minors and family members!), and has been forgiven by God.

In some ways the situations are polar opposites – this woman being convinced God was punishing her, and those who advocate for Josh Duggar who say that he’s forgiven so we should just move on as if nothing happened (after all, it happened so long ago).  But the statement I gave to this woman, and how we “unpacked” it, and the statement I would put forth to those who advocate for Josh Duggar are the same:  there is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  God’s forgiveness often runs a completely different path than earthly consequences.

I assured the woman in that hospital bed that God was NOT judging or punishing her.  She made a bad decision by drinking and driving and paid earthly consequences for her actions – she got in an accident, and had legal ramifications for breaking the law that were still forthcoming.  But God’s love for her was constant throughout, and God loved her even in that moment.  Indeed God grieved for her suffering.  She knew she made a mistake, she confessed the mistake (repeatedly), and I reassured her God’s forgiveness was real and that God wanted her healthy again, not languishing in judgment and physical pain.

I would say to Josh Duggar and those quick to move on that he too has been forgiven.  God was deeply grieved and angered by his actions of abuse, but Jesus died for him just as Jesus died for me.  His slate in heaven is clean. HOWEVER, just as with the woman above – there are earthly consequences for his actions.  The statute of limitations ran out so that legal ramifications were no longer possible (although one wonders if that would have been the case if his father and church leaders had gone to authorities in a TIMELY manner instead of waiting so long!) – so instead the ramifications seem to be a loss of reputation in a VERY public way.  And since he saw fit to be a public personality, loss of reputation in a public way is a logical consequence, the price for putting his life on television.

As for his parents?  They too are paying an earthly consequence for their cover-up.  Their salvation is not in question. Perhaps if they had dealt with their son’s actions, again, in a timely manner, and if they had gotten the victims (some of whom were their own daughters!) and their son REAL counseling – instead of punishing Josh with “hard labor” and a “stern talking to” and expecting the girls to “forgive,” this situation wouldn’t have exploded like it has.  They too have lost credibility and now have lost their show.   For them it is the earthly consequence for their “mishandling” and what boils down to a cover-up.

Some of the exploding has to do with the sick and twisted theology to which this family adheres.  The self-righteousness and purity culture, the patriarchy and the subjugation of women are a ripe breeding ground for sexual and physical abuse.  Men get free reign and women are expected to “take it” because the men are truly in charge. Women are discouraged from working outside the home and even from going to college.  They have no positions in church leadership.  They are expected to tolerate physical abuse from their husbands, and for them there is no such thing as spousal rape.  But all this is a topic for another post which I’m not sure I have the stomach to write…

What I wanted to do here was explain that, yes, Josh Duggar can receive God’s forgiveness for his actions – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be earthly consequences for his illegal behavior.  His parents may be forgiven for their “inaction” but are also paying an earthly price.

There is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  Josh and his parents have been forgiven, but they have also gotten away with something for more than ten years – so perhaps the uproar is just the interest on their earthly debt….

I’m sorry

It was a snowy Saturday afternoon and the streets had not yet been plowed.  At around 5pm my teenager asked me if I could drive her to her boyfriend’s house.  I looked at her incredulously.  “Don’t you know it’s snowing out?  The roads haven’t even been plowed.  Plus it’s getting dark and it’s only getting colder.  I’m sorry honey, but not tonight.”

My teenager is an awesome person.  She is so caring, so kind, always looking out for the marginalized, always rooting for the underdog.  She is often wise beyond her years.  But then she does something that reminds me she is still only a teenager, with normal wild teenage hormones and developmentally appropriate selfishness.  Problem is, I still haven’t figured out when I will welcome the one and have to brace myself for the other!

Suddenly I was being attacked.  I was unreasonable, unfair.  She hadn’t seen her boyfriend all week and couldn’t I understand?  Didn’t I care?  I kept my cool, repeated myself and told her I honestly felt bad about it but our minivan isn’t great in the snow and the driving would only get worse – I was sure the roads would be better tomorrow and I would happily drive her to visit him then.  But for some reason, my comments only exacerbated the situation and she became even more worked up.  Now, I was being told (loudly!) that I never did anything for her, and she stormed away from me, went to her bedroom and slammed the door.  I had been hit with the developmentally appropriate selfish monster.  wow.

My parenting style is quite different from the one I grew up with.  I wasn’t allowed to express anger towards my parents, what they said was law and that was the end of it.  I wanted my children to have something different.  I didn’t want them to be afraid to be angry – at anyone.  So, once in a while in our house things will get loud – and I’m ok with that.  We DO have certain rules of respect – ways we can talk (and NOT talk) to each other – but as long as we stay within those parameters my husband and I generally let things play out.  The other behavior we try to model for our children is confession and forgiveness.  Our children know we are not perfect.  I’ve been saying I’m sorry to my kids about stuff since they were babies.  In my sermon on Ash Wednesday last week I challenged the popular phrase, “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” with the truth, which is, “love means having to say you’re sorry A LOT.”  If we love someone, and we’ve hurt them in some way, even if we couldn’t avoid it, it’s important to acknowledge it, and ask for forgiveness if called for, or have compassion for their feelings if we stand by our actions.  Of course, since we’re religious folks, we’re also modelling a good faith practice – you know, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….

  • Sometimes I’m sorry is an offering of confession and request for forgiveness. “I know I did something wrong and I hope you forgive me.”
  • Sometimes I’m sorry is an offering of compassion and consolation.  “I know you’re hurt or angry about what I did/said, and although I stand by it, I do care for you and feel badly, and want to be here for you,” or simply “I’m sorry for your loss.”

In this case, there was nothing I could do for my daughter.  The I’m sorry I said to her at the beginning of this story fell into the second category.  I really did feel badly that I couldn’t take her, but I would not be changing my mind and driving on dangerous roads.  I made a decision that caused her hurt, and I couldn’t change the situation.   I offered her compassion but she got angry with me and lashed out.

About a half hour later my daughter came into my bedroom quietly, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry I got angry with you before.”  THIS was an example of the first I’m sorry – confession and forgiveness.  Internally I was cheering for her bravery and maturity, and at having a part in the raising of this amazing young woman – YES!  Externally I remained calm and replied, “Thank you.  I really do feel badly you can’t see him tonight, and I WILL take you tomorrow.”  I accepted her confession, she accepted my compassion, and we were reconciled.  (And she DID see her boyfriend the next day!)

sorry 3

For the record, the first kind of I’m sorry is MUCH harder to do!  It takes courage to admit when we’re wrong.  It takes trust to acknowledge to another person that we have done/said/acted in a way that hurt them.  It takes humility to place ourselves before another and ask for pardon.  It’s risky!  What if they say no?  What if they take our confession and toss it back in our face?  What if they don’t believe our sincerity?  What if they hurt me in return? In the second instance the one who causes the hurt still has control and power – but in the first instance, in confession, we relinquish power and control.

When we confess, we make ourselves vulnerable.

Certainly I’m sorry is a hope for reconciliation with the other, but it begins with our desire to take responsibility.  So, even if the other person isn’t ready to forgive, we have taken the first step (acknowledgment of wrong) and opened up the possibility of dialog and restoration.  In our walk of faith there may indeed be times when our confession is rejected by the other.  It’s not a good feeling, but in that instance we need to focus on our confession and willingness to repent instead of the person’s reaction.  We need to pray for them in their journey of healing, because forgiveness is important to both parties – the one who commits the offense and the one who is hurt.  If there is reparation to be done in order for reconciliation to happen, then we do it.

Above all, we need to remember that while forgiveness in human relationships may be risky and imperfect, divine forgiveness is NOT.  There may be earthly consequences for our actions.  This is part of making amends.  There may be times we’ve hurt people and the relationship cannot be saved.  But our relationship with God is one of eternal love.  God certainly isn’t happy with us when we sin, especially when that sin causes harm to our neighbor.  But God is always present to hear and accept our confession, and to grant us absolution.  The human party may not be ready to grant forgiveness, but God always is.  And unlike human relationships that may be permanently broken, our relationship with God is forever, through no doing of our own.

One of disciplines of Lent is repentance (remorse or contrition for past conduct or sin).  As we practice this discipline in our lives, I hope we take special notice of all the I’m sorrys we hear – the ones we speak, and the ones spoken to us.  It really is an amazing thing – I’m sorry – it holds so much power to reconcile and restore – both in our human relationships and in our relationship with God.

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (prayer for Ash Wednesday)

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, year B, 2014 (preached December 7, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

second reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a

gospel reading:  Mark 1:1-8

In our gospel reading this morning we hear, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”  St. Mark tells us that this messenger is John the Baptizer.

Through his preaching and baptizing, he made people ready to receive the One who would come after him, about whom he says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”  John is the baptizer, the announcer, the preparer – sent by God to make the way for Jesus the Christ.

The word “Advent” means arrival.  This reading tells us about Advent in the past tense – how John prepared the people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus.  But how can this reading apply to Advent in the present?

What does it say to us, who in this season of meditation and anticipation, are trying to find new ways of inviting the Lord into our life today?

Scholar Reginald Fuller states, “The Church must allow John the Baptist to perform his distinctive ministry of forerunner in its midst today.  How is he to do this?  By the preaching of repentance.  Unless people are first convicted of sin, they cannot know the need for a Savior.” (Preaching the Lectionary, 2006. p. 208)

Have we been convicted of our sin?  Have we come to the realization that we are far from perfect creatures, and NOT the Creator?

As Christians we need to be constantly aware of our sinfulness and brokenness.  That was the calling of John the Baptist.  He held up a mirror for each person to look at to see their true selves – the kind of mirror that strips away all the makeup, all the images we put on to make ourselves look better on the outside.

And what needed to be done 2,000 years ago still needs to be done today.

In some churches there is little talk of sin.  But how can God’s grace mean anything to us unless we recognize how much we are utterly dependent upon that grace?

Confronting our sin is not popular, it doesn’t make us feel good.  It strips us of all “holier than thou” pretenses, all notions that we’re better than anyone else.

This is so necessary for a life of faith, this is why confession is SO important, to strip ourselves bare before God, who sees us naked anyway, so that we can experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.

Because we’re called to repentance, not so God can lord it over us, hold our sins against us and keep us down.  John the Baptist called the people to repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

We need to confront and confess our sinfulness, come to repentance, so that we can experience in a profound way, the love and forgiveness that God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news – not our sinfulness, but God’s boundless, all-encompassing love for you and me.

In our Old Testament reading we have a wonderful image of God – and the last two verses are quite meaningful.  Isaiah gives us an image of God’s awesome power and how it’s used.

“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  God sounds like a real tough guy.  Watch out for this God – he means business.

But that’s not the end.  In the very next verse Isaiah explains how God uses this power – the power of his arm.  We read, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”

God has the power to crush us – but loves us in spite of all the mistakes we have made and will make in the future.  God is loving, forgiving, merciful, kind and gentle to all the sheep.  This can give us comfort and strength as we examine ourselves, as we realize our sin and how much we need the grace of God.

I’d probably be negligent if I didn’t mention the unrest and protests that have occurred across the country in light of the events in Missouri and New York.  Hard to look at God’s model of power and NOT think of it.

God uses God’s power, not to crush, but to bring love – this is the ultimate example of the use of power for us – whether we are in law enforcement, involved in protest, or watching and wondering how to respond.

I think if all sides could come together and acknowledge their mutual sinfulness, both institutional and individual – if WE could each examine OUR hearts and how we treat one another – it would go a long way toward bringing real peace and justice to all our communities.

When John the Baptist says, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming,” he means the One who uses his power for love.

When John the Baptist says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he is talking about the One who stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals, and even washed their feet.  God’s love for you and me knows no bounds, it goes the extra mile and beyond our greatest expectations – and this isn’t just good news, it’s the best news of all.

But how will people know this best of all news?  How will the ministry of John the Baptist be carried out today?  How can people come to confession and repentance so that they can know how far God has gone to love them?

Through you and me.  WE are the Church.  WE have the mission to carry on where John left off.

But not to talk about sin so that we can beat people down.  Not to talk about sin so that we can pass judgement.

But to talk about sin, to acknowledge it, so that we can experience the awesome forgiveness of God that is waiting for each one of us, to make us free.



I read a wonderful reflection today on confession by Margaret Felice (you can read it here – I highly recommend it).  While I was reading her thoughts it reminded me of a conversation I had with a few members of my congregation in our adult Sunday school just last week about the same topic.  There are clear differences since Margaret is Roman Catholic and I serve in the Lutheran tradition, but there are also more similarities than one might initially think.

First the differences, very briefly, since they are NOT where I want to focus.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, confession is a sacrament.  Also in the Roman Catholic tradition, confession is typically an individual interaction between a priest and a parishioner.  In the Lutheran tradition, confession does not rise to the level of sacrament (for Lutherans a sacrament must have a direct command of Christ) and is typically only practiced in a corporate setting (congregational confession in the midst of worship).  In many Lutheran circles the idea of individual confession is looked down upon – and that is so so sad.

Martin Luther held confession in the highest esteem.  The fact that it isn’t a sacrament for Lutherans doesn’t mean we think it’s unnecessary.  Luther tied confession intimately with Holy Baptism, through which we receive forgiveness.  Indeed, in the Small Catechism, confession falls under the “umbrella” of Holy Baptism and Luther even gives instructions regarding confession.  Here is a small portion:

“What sins should we confess?  Answer:  Before God we should acknowledge that we are guilty of all manner of sins, even those of which we are not aware, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer.  Before the confessor, however, we should confess only those sins of which we have knowledge and which trouble us.

What are such sins?  Answer:  Reflect on your condition in the light of the Ten Commandments:  whether you are a father or mother, a son or daughter, a master or servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, ill-tempered, or quarrelsome; whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed; and whether you have stolen, neglected or wasted anything, or done any other evil.”  (The Book Of Concord, ed. Theodore Tappert.  Fortress Press, 1959, page 350 – – with my apologies to wonderful friend and godfather to our son, Timothy Wengert, who edited a very recent edition which I have yet to buy!)

In addition, we have the Augsburg Confession – one of the central writings of the Lutheran Tradition, which states very clearly in article XI regarding confession:  “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse.  However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins, for this is impossible.” (ibid., p. 34)

I share these quotes for two reasons:  1) to remind fellow Lutherans of Luther’s overall love for the Church and its traditions (the problems he had with the Church were few – BIG, but few), and that not all things “Roman” are necessarily bad.  That belief has been MOST unfortunate.  I liken it to the struggle children sometimes have with parents – “if Mom does it THIS way, then I’m definitely NOT doing it this way.”  At some point the child must grow up and realize not all things the parent does are wrong… And 2) to hopefully remind my fellow Lutherans of the beauty and profound depth of the act of confession.

In many Lutheran churches we begin our worship with a “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness.”  This is a wonderful chance to free our hearts and minds and souls before we receive God’s Word through Scripture and preaching, and before receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion.  We hear the words of Scripture from 1John 1:8-9 (for those still using our green hymnal – I lament its omission in the new hymnal), we have a moment of silent reflection, make a verbal general confession of things done and left undone, sin in word and deed, and not loving our neighbor as ourself or God with our whole heart – then we hear the absolution.

But we have NOT done away with individual confession.  I’m not advocating for its full-scale return, but I wish people could realize the profound cleansing that confession can have if there is something that is really troubling us, but also the freedom we can feel when we’ve said our wrongs out loud instead of just to ourselves where they are easier to ignore.  Margaret’s article, with just a few adjustments, could easily be shared as wonderful counsel for Lutherans!

Example: “We are social beings. It is rare that our sinfulness stays between us and God. Admitting our sins to a member of our community and expressing contrition addresses the social aspect of both sin and spirituality, as does the mediation of forgiveness through another person.”

This is wonderful advice – for it reminds us that our sin impacts others, and also reminds us that we are indeed part of a faith community, not just an individual “spiritual/not religious” “don’t need to go to church” Christian that can exist apart from community.

I have only made use of individual confession a few times in my life, and each of those times were disturbing, painful, moving, sacred and beautiful – all at once.  The absolution proclaimed was intensely freeing – feeling almost like I could fly!  Leaving the experience pounds lighter, with years added back to my life that would have been taken away by the stress, worry and shame that was making me old.

Confession, both corporate and individual  – is a wonderful gift of God.  Whether it is a sacrament for us or not, it is still important, and as Margaret states, “most ignored.”  That’s truly a shame.  Let’s hope and pray it doesn’t continue to be so…

What do you think?