Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Confession

   For centuries, the biggest single reason Christians came to worship was to be assured they had secured remission for their sins. Nowadays, when we have lost our sense of sin, or think of sin as something that’s wrong with somebody else, worship has become less about insuring forgiveness and more about being entertained, pleased, or having our biases affirmed.

Not that God wants us to wallow in guilt. Confession isn’t about God being annoyed, and we apologize profusely and then God’s not angry with us any longer. Rather, when we focus on the fact that we are really before God (as we always are, but then we forget until we show up for worship), we notice with some embarrassment how little fixed on God we really are, how vapid and flabby our spiritual lives have been, how many chances to serve God we’ve flat out missed. And more importantly, God is grieved by us. God misses us. God longs for our love and affection, and God needs our service. Confession enables us to repair the breach, to renew the relationship, to sweep away the cobwebs.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Notice it’s not only God’s firm commitment to forgive – but also to cleanse. God not only stays in relationship with us. God washes us, purges us, makes things fresh.

And God heals. John Wesley’s genius was that he understood how God’s grace not only yields forgiveness for sin. There is medicine, some real healing. Grace answers the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart” (Psalm 51:10). God cures the wayward heart. God fixes the self in us that drifts from God.

We ask for this. We need this – and more from God in worship and every day. It isn’t the case that we are required by God to remember every infraction and officially apologize for it. So much of our divergence from God we don’t recall, or we don’t even recognize. We have our blind spots. We think something is sin that isn’t, and much that we think is good actually is contrary to God’s heart. We ask for God’s mercy for such situations, and God is merciful. As in Jesus’ best story, the Father embraces his wayward son who finally came home.

For we are broken, fallen people. That’s not the death of us, or the defining truth about us. We are God’s beloved. Realizing, and then confessing how lost we are is the beginning of our healing, of our hope. Repentance, in the Bible, isn’t feeling bad about ourselves. It’s the dawning of the truth about God’s mercy.

And so we begin. In Stand Up Guys, Val (played by Al Pacino) steps into the confessional booth and says “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” The priest asks “How long since your last confession?” “Sixty years.” The priest presses on: “Why don’t you confess each and every sin?” Crusty Val replies, “We’d be here forever. Why don’t we just deal with today?”

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