At our weekly Bible study, we discuss a great many things. One week, studying a lesson about honestly baring our souls before God, someone asked why we never do a prayer of confession in our Sunday service. She had visited another church where such a prayer was a weekly fixture.
My answer was in the five other churches I have served, we always had a prayer of confession. So why don’t we have one here? I was quickly asked. Because when I arrived and suggested as much, I was new and the idea seemed alien. And because in the early stages, my listening is as important as my speaking, my learning your traditions is as essential as bringing my customs. I put it aside. So maybe we could try it out for a short stretch and learn what this time-honored Christian practice is all about? came the suggestion. Last Monday the Deacons agreed with that.
So for the Sundays of Lent—a season of self-examination and turning our lives around—we will experiment with a shared spoken prayer of confession. Please give it a chance, although the prayer of confession, like so many Christian practices, is counterintuitive. If we evaluate it from a secular perspective of self-esteem, it will make no sense at all. So what is confession about?
I will devote an entire sermon to this subject in two weeks. This Sunday is Valentine’s Day and the following Sunday Gary will preach. But the last Sunday of February, I’ll drill down into this.
For now, hear this saying from Hasidic Judaism: “God is not an uncle. God is an earthquake.” What does that mean? We tend to hear the voice of God as a human voice, only louder and bolder, like James Earl Jones. We regard God as our co-pilot, and put that on our bumpers. For us, God is a divine buddy, who says, “do sincerely whatever it is you’re planning to do anyway.”
This isn’t the God of Scripture. Isaiah (55.8-9) writes. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” A quantum leap separates his divine nature from our human nature. God isn’t humanity in a loud voice. Coming before God, Isaiah writes (6.5), “‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I’m a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the Lord of hosts!’” So on that day when we meet God, we’ll not place our arm on his shoulder, like a beer buddy, but fall to our knees. That isn’t because God demeans or condemns; it’s because God is greater than we can imagine.
Paul the Apostle writes (Romans 3.23), “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” By that he isn’t getting at fudging on our taxes or lusting after a neighbor. Those are mere “sins.” Rather he means something greater, “sin”: preferring our way to God’s way, lived as a rebellion.
Confession helps us be honest about our natural state of rebelling against God. Some say, God knows everything. Why do we need to tell him? We need not tell God for God’s sake, but for our own. For this kind of searing honesty and utter transparency makes possible a closeness with God not otherwise possible. It eliminates any shock and surprise on our part against that day when we meet God face to face. So this is how we go deeper with God. See you in church.
Asking for and giving forgiveness are for me foundational elements of Christianity and the most challenging. Happy to incorporate this into the service at this time.