Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. I’ve sinned against you—you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight. That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict, completely correct when you issue your judgment. Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin, from the moment my mother conceived me. And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space. Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds! Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways, and sinners will come back to you. Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. You don’t want sacrifices. If I gave an entirely burned offering, you wouldn’t be pleased. A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God. You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. Do good things for Zion by your favor. Rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Then you will again want sacrifices of righteousness—entirely burned offerings and complete offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar. (Psalm 51, Common English Bible)
In the two studies I lead during the week at First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas where I serve as the pastor, we started looking at the Adam Hamilton study Christianity’s Family Tree. Tonight when we meet we will be in our third week, having already looked at both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. Tonight we will look at the Lutheran tradition.
Last week, in both the Wednesday night study and the Thursday lunch study, I took a little time to share my feelings on something I think we Protestants have lost. In the Roman Catholic tradition, confession is a sacrament and a great deal of importance is placed on it. Most of us know, Roman Catholic priests hear the confessions of the individual.
We have lost some real value in the idea and practice of confession. I do know that many Protestants are faithful in their confession to God for the sins they have committed. In Psalm 51 above, one of my personal favorites because of its raw emotion in the face of deep personal sin confessed to God, the psalmist confesses directly to God. There is no preacher or priest hearing the confession and interceding on behalf of the psalmist.
As a matter of pure theology, I wholeheartedly concur. We are as capable of confessing our sins before God ourselves just as well as when someone listens and intercedes on our behalf.
As a practical matter I still believe we have lost something. Please understand. I am not trying to sign up for the job of listening to all my church member’s sins. While I would always be happy to sit in a pastoral environment, including this one with my members, I don’t think that is necessary.
I do think there are two areas where we can improve. First, there is something about hearing ourselves speak our sins, hearing it go from our mouth to our ear that makes us miss out on something important. As I read Psalm 51, I imagine the psalmist, in these cries of deep emotional pain, is praying out load. Sure, God hears us when we pray silently, but there is something for us that is missing. When the words of my sins go from my mouth to my ear that just makes them more real. I believe God will forgive our sins regardless of how we confess them in prayer, but for us, there is something to saying them out loud.
That brings me to the second thing I think we are missing. While I don’t think we must confess to a priest or preacher or anyone for that matter, there is also something important that happens when we choose to do so. When I confess my sins to another person, not only do I hear them, but I have made that person both an accountability partner and an encouragement partner. If someone else knows, they can ask me how things are going. They can remind me how far I have come. Their words can make a difference. This is why Twelve Step programs work. It is more than me on my own.
While I think these are important things our traditions have lost, how you pray and confess is really up to you. It is a matter between you and God. And, at the end of the day, John reminds us, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:9, Common English Bible). And, that is what is truly important. Our confession will result in God’s forgiveness.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved