Confession and Absolution
October 13 and 14, 2018
Second in a Series of Six Sermons / “Heaven on Earth”
I John 1:9-10 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Imagine that you were a college student and that you landed a summer job that paid $50 an hour and that it included washing windows on a high rise apartment building. Now imagine that you were given a choice between two options of how to do your job. Option #1 would be that you would hang onto a rope with one hand and wash windows with the other hand. Option #2 was that a rope harness would be placed securely around your body and you would use both hands to wash windows. Obviously option #1 would require faith in your own ability to hang on tight, and option #2 would require faith in the one who manufactured and installed the harness.
So also do we have at least two options for how to be facing our challenges and living out our lives as Christians. Option #1 is to carry out our vocations in life with our own human strength and to cry out for God’s help as a last resort. Option #2 is to rest in His strength even as we cry out for His help day after day.
Or to say it another way, we rest in God’s grace day after day, even as we cry out to Him for mercy. Last week we focused on The Invocation, where we make the sign of the cross and remember that in Baptism, the Triune God has claimed us to be His very own sons and daughters. Today, as we continue the Divine Service, we do so confessing the truth about ourselves. We don’t just amble into the presence of God as if we belong here, we admit again and again that we have fallen short of keeping the Ten Commandments, we acknowledge that we have missed the mark in terms of loving God with all of our hearts / souls / minds and that we have more often than not loved ourselves more than we have loved our neighbors. To use the language of Option#2, we would not only rest in God’s baptismal grace, we would return to that grace again and again by confessing our sins with every expectation that God’s forgiveness would sweep over our souls and be ruling in our hearts and having its way in our minds.
Three truths we would note in our readings for today about the confession of sins. First, the confession of sins is our duty. Secondly the confession of sins is our privilege. Third, the confession of sins is life changing.
First, the confession of sins is our (duty). To do something out of a sense of duty suggests that it isn’t something we prefer to be doing, it isn’t something we want to be doing. King David preferred not to admit that he was an adulterer, he preferred not to admit that he was a cold blooded murderer, he preferred not to admit that he was a low down liar. It was only when the Holy Spirit got ahold of David through the witness of the prophet Nathan that David realized it was his duty to come clean.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Isaiah urges the confession of sins with words like, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…he says that are sins are like scarlet, they are red like crimson”. In today’s Epistle lesson, John writes that if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say that we are in fellowship with the light of the world and yet walk in darkness, we are in fact lying and not practicing the truth.
The confession of sins isn’t something that comes naturally, what comes naturally is the explanation of our wrongdoing – tell a boy on the playground to quit hitting the other boy, and more often than not he will explain that the other boy started it. Tell an older sister to quit being mean to her younger sister, and she will explain that the younger sister was being really, really, really annoying. (Story of Eddie and Leroy trying to kick each other in the head in my confirmation class).
Truth #1 today is to learn again that the confession of sins, the coming clean on the subject of our guilt doesn’t happen easily, it is a duty that needs to be commanded and taught. We recognize that what comes naturally when confronted with our failures and our faults is to explain, it is to defend, it is to excuse, it is to rationalize, it is to stay silent.
Secondly, the confession of sins is our (privilege). It is the privilege of called and ordained pastors to speak in the stead and by the authority of Jesus Christ words of absolution. It is the privilege of every Christian to look repentant sinners in the eyes and say that Jesus Christ paid for those sins,(to use Isaiah’s language) though they be like scarlet, they are now white as snow, though they are red like crimson, today they have become like wool.
To use King David’s language, there is no greater joy than to have your transgressions be forgiven, there is no greater joy than to have your sins covered, there is no greater joy than having the judge declare you not guilty.
Dear Christian friends, whatever personal failures or frailties are weighing heavy on your heart today, whatever personal darkness is making your eyes water today, whatever mistakes of the past that are haunting you this morning, know that even as you confess them, forgiveness is yours. Even as you apologize, the angels and the archangels of heaven are rejoicing. Even as you make a promise to do better, your Father in heaven is well pleased, Jesus is holding you close, the Spirit of God is changing you from the inside out. Which brings us to our third and final truth
Third, the confession of sins is (life-changing). The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that once the people of Israel had made themselves clean through repentance, they were to remove the evil of their deeds in God’s sight. They were to cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. The apostle John makes it clear that if we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be walking in the light and no more in the darkness.
James makes it clear that while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, it is also true that saving faith in Jesus Christ never comes alone. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who gather each week in the Name of the Triune God. Again and again they admit that the good they have wanted to do, they have not – and the evil they have wanted to avoid, they have done. Again and again they hear with their own ears their sins are forgiven, their souls are washed, their debt is cancelled, their status is restored.
The kingdom of God is like a husband who goes home that very afternoon from church, looks his wife in the eyes and admits that he has been out of sorts recently, he’s not sure why, he is sorry, he wants to do better.
It’s like a wife who goes home, looks her husband in the eyes, she admits that she has been holding a grudge, she has no explanation, she feels bad about it, she wants a new beginning.
It’s like people of all ages, all sizes and shapes, all walks of life who go home today, they look their Savior in the eyes, they admit they are broken, they’re messed up, they have no excuses, they are sorry, they wonder out loud if they could have an extra measure of grace.
Praise be to God, their lives are never the same again. Amen.
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