Monday, September 10, 2012

The Importance of Confession

September 9th, 2012   “The Importance of Confession”   Rev. Heather Jepsen

Sermon Series: The Theology of Worship
(Based on A More Profound Alleluia  ed. Van Dyk)

Psalm 103 and 1 John 1

          Will Campbell, a Baptist preacher sums up the Christian faith saying, “We’re no damn good, but God loves us anyway.”  This morning we are going to talk about just that – our own failings and God’s love for us.  This morning’s sermon is the second in a series on how and why we worship the way that we do. 

Last week we talked about the opening of our worship service; gathering in God’s name.  We begin our worship with God’s call to gather us together in this moment and place.  Once here we take time in music and song to call the whole of our being to this time of worship, we share words of greeting and news of this church community, we share in a call to worship, and we praise God with singing.  It is God who works in and through us throughout our worship service.  This morning we will talk about that prayer of the day, and why I feel it is important to form it into a more traditional prayer of confession.

          Theology professor William Dyrness says that “true worship does not come naturally to us.  There are many things that keep us from worship – either from coming to church at all, or, having been persuaded to come, from actually engaging in genuine worship.  Our natural inclination, in fact, is to sit in the back of the church, or indeed to stay outside the church altogether.  We might feel that we are not good enough to worship a holy God, or we might be overwhelmed with the painful failures that have bedeviled us during the previous week.  Or perhaps we feel too good to go in and sit down; feeling in some way that we don’t need what the church has to offer.  Or, on occasion, we might feel we would not be welcome, or that we would not feel at home in church – the songs and rituals and vocabulary all seem strange to us.”

          The fact is that worship does not come naturally to us for one fundamental reason.  We are all sinners.  All of the relationships in our lives, with God as well as with friends, family, and acquaintances are damaged by sin.  We live in a world of broken relationships.  “When asked why we do not feel like worshiping God, our natural response is to point to someone else’s failure; the minister’s, or some Christian we once knew.  We do not usually connect this with any failure on our own part.” (Dyrness)  No matter what issues we may have with others in or outside of our church, the fact is that it is our own sinful nature that makes it hard for us to come to worship.

          Of course, the Bible has a lot to say about sin.  “The Old Testament has many ways of describing humanity’s rebellion against God, each of them shedding a different light on the barriers to worship.  There are several Hebrew words for sin which refer to the various ways that we miss the path that God intended for us in his law and instruction.  Two other Hebrew words for sin stress the deliberate human act of defiance.  A range of others refer to the puzzling persistence of sin that seems built into us.”   (Dyrness)  

          Our sin causes a gulf between us and the holiness of God.  In Leviticus believers are encouraged to confess their sins and to bring an offering before the Lord for atonement.  In our Psalm reading for today we heard that “The Lord is merciful and gracious . . . he will not deal with us according to our sins . . . the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting . . . for those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.”

          In the New Testament the story of sin revolves around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “Christ’s death is variously pictured as the offering for sin, as a great exchange, and as a deliverance of the believer from evil powers, along with other New Testament images for salvation.  All the rich biblical images proclaim that Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, has initiated a new era in which sin and death have been decisively defeated and righteousness has been established.” (Dyrness) 

          The way of our salvation moves from meeting the demands of the law to having faith in Christ, because it is only through his actions that we are saved.  The writer of 1 John points out that “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.”

          In classical theology sin was thought of as a strictly personal issue.  Sin was a distorted will and misplaced pride.  As theology progressed, sloth and falsehood were also common understandings of sin.  In modern theology several new discussions of sin have developed including a focus on the sins of community or corporate sin.  “These broader perspectives allow theologians to focus not only on discrete personal sins but also on social sins and structural sins, not only on doing what is wrong, but also on failing to do what is right.  Sin in all its multiple and insidious forms not only infects our individual lives but also disrupts community, deforms institutions, and even damages creation itself.”  (Dyrness) 

          The reality is that even believers in Christ continue to sin and therefore must continue to pray for the forgiveness of sin.  That’s why a prayer of confession is such an important part of the worship service.  Follow along in your bulletin with me please.

First you will see I have added in a call to confession.  This is a time when we are reminded that all of us are sinners and therefore all of us are called to confess our sins as we come to God in worship.

I have relabeled our prayer of the day as a prayer of confession.  In the prayer of confession, we recognize that by our own strength we are unable to worship God.  In the prayer of confession we acknowledge the guilt that we have for our sins, and the gratitude we feel for the saving work of Jesus Christ.  In acknowledging our sinful nature, we come clean before God, and prepare our hearts for the next portion of worship, hearing God’s Word. 

          Because we are sinners, confession is not only a necessary part of worship; it helps to reorient us to reality.  It is all too easy for us to ignore the reality of sin in our everyday lives, especially because we live in a culture that is so blind to sin.  “While the world around us may try to convince us that we are really OK, in confession we acknowledge that we constantly go astray, that even our good works are marked by sin, and that apart from God’s grace we are lost.”  (Dyrness)  Just as our opening worship is a response to God’s love and call, our confession is a response to the declaration that we are sinners and stand in need of redemption.

          An important aspect of our prayer of confession is that it is communal; we all say the prayer together.  This recognizes that even our community itself is broken and fractured by sin.  We say the prayer not only for ourselves but on the behalf of our community of faith.  In the prayer of confession we acknowledge not only the broken relationships in our personal lives, but the broken relationships in our church, and between our church and the greater world.

          We confess our sins in worship not only to be honest with ourselves and God, but to hear the good news that through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.  That’s why I’m adding the assurance of pardon to our worship service.  For believers, confession is always followed by the acknowledgement that we are forgiven in Jesus Christ.  The words of good news are words that we all need to hear each Sunday.  The practice of pardon, just like confession, is significant for the community.  The Scriptures make clear that forgiveness by God is linked with our forgiveness of each other.  “The fundamental relationship that needs restoration is that between us and God.  But the Scriptures do not allow us to separate this relationship from those others that structure our lives, especially those in the body of Christ.”  (Dyrness) 

          After we receive the assurance of pardon, we sing the Gloria Patri.  In singing this ancient doxology or hymn of praise every Sunday, we have the opportunity to celebrate our forgiveness and praise the triune God.

          New this Sunday, we passed the peace of Christ after singing the Gloria Patri.  I believe that this is a more meaningful time to greet one another in worship.  Having been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, we are asked to share the unity and love that comes from God with each other.  It is a visible sign of the bridge that forgiveness makes in our lives.  This is the time when the community shares in the pardon given through Christ. 

I encourage you to take this time not only to welcome one another but to really look at each other, shake hands, and say “the peace of Jesus Christ be with you.”  In doing this, “we extend to one another the reality that, having been reconciled to God; we are also reconciled to one another.  The act suggests that we do more than simply forget their slights and trespasses against us; we actually reach out to them in love and communion.”  (Dyrness)  I want to try this new pattern of worship for a while and I am eager to hear any feedback you may have on how this affects your worship experience.

          In the simple practice of confession and assurance we are led through the entire story of redemption.  We are called to acknowledge who we are as individuals and as a  community before God; sinners in need of redemption.  We hear the assurance of pardon and are once again reminded that we are made new in Jesus Christ.  We sing the Gloria, praising God for his grace.  And we share the good news of forgiveness with each other by passing the peace of Christ.  This section of worship has much to say about who we believe God to be and God’s work in our lives.  It is my hope that this new order of worship will be meaningful to you as individuals and to us as a church community.  Amen.


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