I just got back from a week away, and even though I ate
carefully, I confess that I’ve put on two pounds in weight. As many of you
know, for the last seven or eight years I’ve been trying to prevent my body
from developing full blown diabetes. To some extent I have succeeded but it
seems to be getting less and less easy. I’ve been putting on and taking off the
same four pounds for the last year. Sometimes I get angry about it; sometimes I
feel ashamed that I can’t just deal with it once and for all, especially when I
meet people or read articles that make it sound very easy. For them it may be,
but for me with my body and my personality it just isn’t.
So I find today’s New Testament reading quite reassuring.
Apparently the blessed Apostle Paul also had some difficulties with his behaviors
and his personality. “For I find it to be a law,” he writes, “that when I want
to do good, evil lies close at hand.” Paul was contrasting the Jewish religious
system where holiness was a matter of keeping the law, with the new
understanding that in Jesus we are reconciled to God without having to obey a
complex legal system. God still loves us even if we work on the Sabbath, forget
to wash our hands before dinner or fail to lose weight. None of that is really important
to the divine. What is important is that we turn towards God at every
opportunity, which includes when we realize that we have done or thought something
which is less than Christ-like. What is important is that, as we promised in
our baptismal vows, we “persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into
sin, repent and return to the Lord.”
So the fact that we often fail to live up to the standards
set by Jesus’ example; the fact that we often get caught up in the sin matrix
of the world’s violence are not reasons for despair. As Paul says, “Thanks be
to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” we are not left to sink further and
further, unless we ourselves make that choice.
Which is why, on most every Sunday, we make our confession
together. After the Prayers of the People, or during Lent at the very beginning
of the service, we together confess our sins against God and our neighbor. This
is not my favorite part of the service and I know it is difficult for some of
you too. It seems to smack of God as judge or school principal, demanding that we recite what we’ve done wrong so that
we can be suitably punished, or suitably forgiven.
It’s hard to let go of images of God which are ingrained in
our minds and our culture, but I suspect that this is one of the places that we
need to consciously choose to image God differently. I’ve been reading Marjorie
Suchocki’s book about prayer and I’m looking forward to sharing some of her
ideas with you on Thursday evenings later this month. Suchocki is a process
theologian which means that she thinks of God as a process that is in constant
movement and change, like the wind or water, rather than as someone static like
If God is like water, then he’s not sitting in judgment somewhere
waiting to hear about our sins. Suchocki thinks of God as being utterly
relational, always in communication with us, constantly prompting us towards
greater life, and at the same time being changing by the ideas and behaviors we
have. Why would we confess our sins to such
a flowing God who knows them all already?
Because it is part of being honest with ourselves and with
God about who we really are. If you don’t know who you are or you hide from
your less than wonderful aspects, you cannot have true intimacy with anyone,
and that includes God. As we name ourselves before God acknowledging the harm
that we have done to ourselves and others, we are beginning the work of transformation.
God always works with us toward our good and the good of all life. When we pray
prayers of confession, truly acknowledging that we have not always worked
toward the good we give God material to work with. We realign ourselves with
the work that Spirit is doing in our world.
So confession is not a way to appease an angry God, or a way
to persuade God to forgive us. It is a way to open ourselves on deeper and
deeper levels to Spirit. It is a way to acknowledge our brokenness and our
dependence upon God. It is a way to humbly realign ourselves with the divine.
When we are full of ourselves and our abilities and our thoughts, we do not
have the space or the attention to hear the quiet whisperings of the relational
God. Confession is the way to clear-headedly
acknowledge that we are not perfect and that we do need the Holy Spirit to work
in our hearts and our lives in that process of constant conversion which we
call sanctification – being made holy.
God does not demand our confession in order for us to be
forgiven. We are already forgiven. We
need confession in order to be open to the promptings of Spirit. When we make
our confession whether privately, in common worship, or in the individual sacrament
of reconciliation, we are turning towards God and letting go of the things that
pull us away.
Now, because this fluid God-like-water is in touch with all
beings just as she is with us, we are connected with all beings through her.
And so within the act of confession is contained the beginning of the making of
amends towards those we have harmed.
Sometimes we can see overt and outrageous sins that we have committed,
but more often our sins are subtle; the hoarding of ourselves by closing down
and keeping others out or, alternatively, exploiting the vulnerability of
others; the failure to open ourselves to God, preferring to dwell in the superficial parts of our
lives; and the failure to look after the richness Go d has given us, especially
in our own bodies. As we confess these subtle sins, so we are giving God
permission to work with us in the process of transformation so we are made new
and whole and able to live life to its fullest.
In the old communion service, after the confession and
blessing we would hear the so-called comfortable words – words of encouragement
and strengthening. The end of today’s gospel includes some of those comfortable
words. "Come to me, all you who
are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my
yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you
will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
When we turn to
God in confession of our own weakness and failings we are letting go of the
burdens which the world lays upon us; the burden to perform, the burden to
appear cleverer than we feel we are, the burden to have answers to all the
questions; the burden to be a wonderful father or a loving daughter; the burden
to have a slender and attractive body. In confession we can let all these
things tumble away as we offer ourselves to God in our nakedness, without
all our public faces - and in their place he offers us gentleness, humbleness
and rest for our souls.
So today, when we come to the confession together, let us
use it as a deep prayer of our souls. Let us stand together, naked before God,
with no pretence of cleverness or artifice of beauty, but just as we are, warts
and all, and let us together acknowledge our complicity in ill-being and our
desire to turn toward God and to live humbly in conscious cooperation with